From proud back-to-back grand final wins to lifelong friendships, the Newcastle Knights have reflected on the earliest moments of their careers playing at their junior rugby league clubs.
Newcastle Knight Tyler Randell’s passion for the game was ignited playing for the Aberdeen Tigers Junior Rugby League Club as a young child.
The versatile hooker played alongside Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon, and coached by his father Scott McKinnon.
“I learned a lot, he was always a good coach and I still highly respect him,” he said.
Randell believes junior rugby league clubs are an important piece in the fabric of small communities.
“It’s about mateship. You play with all your mates growing up through footy and Aberdeen is only a small town,” he said.
“There wasn’t too much to do there besides play footy.”
Meanwhile in another pocket of the Hunter Valley, Knights second rower Robbie Rochow was a proud member of the East Maitland Griffins. He reflects fondly on his time playing for the Club.
“It’s definitely the relationships you build. It just makes you interact with your mates so well. I’m still friends with guys I played juniors with today,” he said.
“I still believe it’s probably the most fun you have playing football.
“I enjoy playing football now in a completely different way, but junior rugby league is some of your most enjoyable days of your career.”
For Souths Newcastle junior Lachlan Fitzgibbon, a lot has changed since he donned the red and white jersey as a child.
“Growing up, believe it or not I was actually playing in the halves,” he said.
Fitzgibbon, who made his NRL debut last year, now weighs more than 100 kilograms and stands 192cms tall.
The highlight of his time as a Souths Lion was winning consecutive junior grand finals and playing alongside his Knights teammate, Sione Mata’utia.
“For us it was all about having fun and getting involved. It used to be my favourite time of the week, getting to train two times a week.”
The Mata’utia brothers were also members of Souths and credit their involvement in junior rugby league to building the foundations of life-long friendships.
“I met a heap of mates and am still friends with them now,” Pat Mata’utia said.
It’s something twins Jacob and Daniel Saifiti can also attest to.
The duo’s on-field chemistry was developed while playing for the Entrance Tigers on the Central Coast. So was meaningful friendships with their teammates and mentors.
"Growing up at your local Club, you usually have mates around there,” Daniel said.
“You develop friendships, not just with players but with coaches as well,” Jacob added.
The Newcastle Knights celebrate the Play NRL Round during the Club’s Round 3 match at Hunter Stadium on Saturday to acknowledge the benefits of playing rugby league.
Kids come free to the game with the purchase of any adult ticket. There will be a junior rugby league guard of honour at the game as well as a Play NRL station for children to test their footy skills in the Fan Zone at Hunter Stadium.