The hard work and progress of some the Newcastle Knights’ youngest squad members has been rewarded with selection for the exciting Auckland Nines tournament.
Head coach Nathan Brown named his squad on Thursday, which features five emerging players who are yet to make their NRL debut.
It’s an opportunity no doubt Jaelen Feeney, Will Pearsall, Brock Lamb and brothers Daniel and Jacob Saifiti will be looking to make the most of when they run out at a buzzing Eden Park in Auckland next weekend.
“There’s a good bunch of youth, who haven’t played first grade and a little bit of experience as well,” Brown said on Thursday morning.
“There a number of blokes who are unlucky, but we could only take 18 and we’ve tried to get a bit of a balance of you and experience.”
Starting halves Trent Hodkinson and Jarrod Mullen will sit out of the tournament, which dishes up an exciting experience to emerging halves Jaelen Feeney, Will Pearsall and Brock Lamb.
“It will be interesting to see how some of the younger guys compete against more experienced players and how the experienced players are going to set a good example for the younger guys,” he said.
In an exceptional twist for the high-energy hit-out, the Knights squad also features three sets of brothers in Pat, Chanel and Sione Mata’utia, Korbin and Tariq Sims as well as twins Daniel and Jacob Saifiti.
“There are three groups of brothers going which will be unique I suppose,” he added.
Brown is confident the combination of rising stars and the professionalism of players like Aku Uate, Tariq Sims and Robbie Rochow will produce quality results on the field.
“I think once you put a group of sportsman together, they always want to win,” he said.
“Once you get there, you want to the best you can and I’d be disappointed if the players didn’t compete hard.”
Meanwhile, Brown says halves partners Hodkinson and Mullen will be fit and ready to go when round one rolls around on March 6.
“They are both going really well at the moment,” he said.
“Mullo (Mullen) has come off and missed most of last year. He’s been training really well lately, but has had one or two minor setbacks.
“We’d rather get him back into a game in a 13-person side".
Hodkinson will receive another update from his surgeon on Friday, but has already joined training with the team on field.
“We hope he gets the all clear for full contact from Saturday morning,” Brown said.