It’s been a pre-season of change for Sione Mata’utia as the 20-year-old learns the ropes in a new position, has looked to gain weight, while also being a leader for the squad’s younger members.
Playing at approximately 97kg in 2016, Mata’utia has now reached 102kg thanks to plenty of hard work in the pre-season.
“I needed to put on a bit of weight, and it’s pretty hard to put on weight while also trying to get a lot fitter,” the youngest of the Mata’utia brothers told Knights TV.
“I have to learn to run with that extra weight, but I’m the fittest I have been for a while.”
The weight of NRL second rowers varies from the 110kg of Josh Papalii to the 94kg of Jamie Buhrer, and Mata’utia’s aim is to maintain the speed he had as an outside back while also gaining enough bulk to mix it with the competition’s biggest edge forwards.
It’s a trial and error process over the pre-season as he aims to find his perfect playing weight.
“I feel comfortable at 102kg and I think I’m running pretty well for this weight,” he explained.
“I don’t want to lose my speed either, and I don’t want to be too slow laterally.
“I think at back row you still need some speed and I’ll still come up against some backs.”
On top of improving his personal game, Mata’utia has an increased leadership role to contend with.
Still the seventh youngest player in a pre-season squad of 40, Mata’utia has played 45 NRL matches – which is more than 27 of his teammates.
His experience and personality make him a natural leader amongst the younger players, and it’s something that he is mindful of on the training field.
“I don’t want to get too far away from how young I am, I like being young,” he said.
“But at times you do have to stand up and be a leader, even though there’s plenty of other leaders there to help me as well.”
The arrival of players such as Jamie Buhrer and Rory Kostjasyn ensures the young squad has some strong leadership.
“I think the new recruits have been standouts on the training field,” Mata’utia noted.
“They’ve been really good at leading, even though they’re new to the Club they’re just natural leaders.”
Still, with Mata’utia now in his fourth NRL pre-season, the experience that he provides to the playing group can’t be underestimated.
“You know pre-season is going to be hard, they never get any easier,” he said.
“But you’ve got to learn to love the process, if you think about it, it’s a short pre-season and a big season.”