The Newcastle Knights’ strong future is reflected in the success of the Club’s junior system, which has once again shone amongst the competition.
The SG Ball Knights were named minor premiers last weekend, winning seven of their eight games and conceding an average of only 15 points.
SG ball coach Anthony Gleeson reflects on a bumper season that has seen the aspiring Knights overcome challenges.
"Apart from a loss to Penrith in the second round, the Knights have remained unbeaten," Gleeson said.
“Since then we’ve really hit our straps and done a fair job even though we’ve had a number of changes with injured players and players coming up and down."
The SG Ball Knights prepare to take on South Sydney on Saturday in week one of the finals.
“We played Souths earlier in the year and they are probably the strongest team we’ve come up against,” he said.
“They certainly have some big guys in the middle and that’s where I’m expecting them to take us on.
“We are expecting some really big physical contact in the middle so we will have to be really strong in defence.
Gleeson attributes consistency among the ranks of the side to the team’s stellar season.
“I think they have played together a fair bit before and have had some good combinations,” he said about the team.
“The majority of the boys in this side had a successful season with the 16s (Harold Matthews) and won the national championship."
In addition to team cohesion, the development and growth of individual players has produced exceptional leadership qualities in the side.
“There are some really good leaders in the team with players like Tom Starling, Brody Jones and Kurtis Jones," he said.
“We have a good mix there, they are a really talented bunch.
“There are six or seven who will move forward to the U20s after our season progresses.
“It has been pleasing to see their leadership qualities develop over the last few years,
"It looks really good for the Knights in that way, we have some really good juniors coming through."
Players have seized their opportunity to be a part of the Knights' juniors system with many travelling as far as Merriwa, Old Bar, the Central Coast and Hunter Valley.
Three days is a big commitment for them, as well as the fact a number of them are doing their higher school certificate," he said.
"Credit to them and their parents for driving them long distances three days a week.
"They have all stuck with it and shown a big level of committment.”
Gleeson also praised the integrity of the young players and their propensity to represent the Club’s values well.
“All the guys in the squad are extremely nice young gentleman and are either at school or working,” he said.
“One of the key things I’m very proud of is that they are very courteous, train hard and are very respectful.
“For a group of young men at that age and to be coming through, it’s quite a good thing."
For now the SG Ball players set sights on progressing in the competition’s finals, but hold deeper hopes of progressing through the ranks at the Knights.
“They see players like the Saifitis (Daniel and Jacob) who have come through the system and are now playing in first grade, it’s really encouraging for them,” he said.
“I think they can see, while it’s a fairly big step, once you get into the system and continue to progress, it may not be as big as they once previously thought.”
The SG Ball Knights play South Sydney on Saturday April 16 at St Marys Stadium at 2.30pm.
The Harold Matthews Newcastle Knights take on the Sharks on Saturday April 16 2016 at St Marys Stadium at 1pm.