18-year-old Sione Mata’utia’s rugby league career couldn’t have skyrocketed much quicker when, at the end of 2014, he was selected as the youngest ever player to don the Australian Kangaroos jersey.
After his whirlwind success, the Newcastle junior was thrust into the life of a fulltime NRL player and navigated a number of different positional changes as the team juggled injuries and changes to the playing group.
Now with a full NRL season under his belt, Newcastle Knights' new coach Nathan Brown is confident this year’s pre-season will put Mata'utia in the best possible position to improve and prosper in 2016.
A key to that he believes is finding a consistent position for the skilled outside back.
“The most important thing for all young players is how they prepare in the pre-season,” Brown said.
“When you go away for Australia and basically miss a huge chunk of the pre-season, it’s not easy.
“That’s when all the young kids get to develop their game and grow as a person and learn what training hard is all about."
While Mata’utia held his own in the side throughout a challenging 2015 season, his capacity to make a position his own was hindered by a number of factors.
“There were things that played their part which weren’t probably ideal for a young kid,” he said.
“He went from the bottom to the top in a very short time and there are a lot of added pressures that go with that and they are not easy to deal with.
“He had a very small pre-season then when he did come back, he played in many different positions.
“Last year he went from centre, to the back row, to the bench to wing and fullback, which was probably tough for him, but I think he should grow from last year and learn from last year.
“He’s back at training now and will have a good pre-season this year and has had a great break, so we are expecting Sione to improve this year in one of two positions.”
Brown is familiar with the youngest of the Mata’utia brother’s strengths having watched his progress from afar when coaching in the UK.
“We will help him find a home in one spot and help him be a bit more stable,” he said.
“We want to try and find a home for him and that’s probably the key.
"He’ll do a little bit of training at centre and a little bit at fullback…whether it’s one or the other, I couldn’t honestly tell you at the moment.
“He will train at those positions in the pre-season and see where it takes him."
Brown is confident the best is yet to come from the early achiever.
“I think everyone agrees, to play for Australia is a great achievement and to do it at that age shows the talent he has got,” he said.
“There’s really not anyone who is ready to play for Australia at 17 years of age.
“It does put a lot of added pressure on a young kids.
“We all have our ups and downs in playing, coaching, and life in general, as long as we learn some lessons from it and he can move forward this year.”