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With a busy weekend of football looming for the nib Newcastle Knights, Knights TV sat down with Physical Performance Manager Tony Ayoub to see how the squad is tracking.

Auckland Nines

19 players from the Club’s pre-season squad of 38 flew out to Auckland on Thursday afternoon for the 2017 Nines competition.

This week they have been training separately from the rest of the players, focusing on tactics and fitness specific to the Nines.

“It’s a totally different game to the 13-a-side,” Ayoub told Knights TV.

“This week we’ve just shifted our focus away from the season proper and really concentrated on the Nines.

“The coaches have really changed their drills to open the field up and try out some different tactics.”

With approximately eight hours of travel involved to get to Auckland from Newcastle, it’s a taxing journey for the players that the coaching staff will have to address before match day.

“It’s a long trip and there’s a couple of hours difference with the time zones,” Ayoub explained.

“The boys usually don’t sleep well for the first night or two, so we certainly need to do a bit of recovery and freshen them up.”

Tweed Heads trial

Another 22 players have been named to travel to Murwillumbah to take on the Tweed Heads Seagulls, and their preparation has been vastly different to the squad that will be playing in the Nines.

“We’ve had to split the squad, so the players going to Tweed Heads have been training with the reserve graders,” Ayoub said.

“They’ve still been doing the same number of sessions out on the field and the same number of kilometres, whereas our Nines players have been doing less.”

Several players with first grade aspirations were not named in either squad, with Josh Starling and Jacob Gagan rested as a precaution.

“They both had relatively later starts, especially Jacob Gagan who has had a history of some problems,” Ayoub said.

“So we didn’t think he was quite ready in terms of his fitness… with Josh we just want to try and drop a couple of more kilos off him before the season.

“It’s more precautionary than anything else, and we’re just trying to build their kilometres up.”

Trent Hodkinson

Hodkinson will be captaining the side heading to Tweed Heads, and Ayoub said the halfback is in excellent condition ahead of the new season.

“Everything we’ve done with him in the gym prior to Christmas was to get him ready for the Canberra trial,” he said.

“He’s just come along so well and he’s probably two weeks ahead of schedule.

“I can see him hitting the ground running with this trial match, and then will kick on against Canberra.”

Hodkinson’s inclusion in more training sessions has been a boost for the team, and Ayoub said the playmaker is in a strong frame of mind.

“He’s a lot more comfortable and confident, and he’s playing with far less pain.

“When he’s out there training just goes to another level, and for his mindset it’s important as well.”