For the first time in three years, Maitland product Matt Soper-Lawler is back in Newcastle and he’s gunning to make a good impression over what have become a couple of important weeks.
This weekend he’ll feature in the NRL Nines for the first time after, to his surprise, he was selected as part of coach Adam O’Brien’s 18-man squad.
After spending the past three seasons playing in the QLD Cup with both the Sunshine Coast Falcons and Souths Logan, he has since returned home with the ambition of playing for the local NRL team he grew up watching.
The Nines will prove to be Soper-Lawler’s first taste of NRL action and it’s an opportunity he’s on the edge of his seat for.
“I’m excited,” Soper-Lawler said.
“We’ve got a really good, young squad that’s going to be pretty fast and pretty fit.
Soper-Lawler: Nines, future and journey so far
“I’m expecting it to be quick, very quick. A lot of one-on-ones, and a lot of chances for a lot of the boys to use their speed and skillset.
“It’s a big competition. There’s 16 clubs going there and there’s a chance to win the whole thing. It’s a really good opportunity for all the train-and-trial boys to put our best foot forward and show what we can do.”
The 23-year-old has already spent time playing under O’Brien in a Melbourne Storm pre-season, the senior team of the Falcons, and is a big fan of his approach as a coach.
Although O'Brien didn’t impact the high-flyer’s decision to return home, he’s extremely happy be playing underneath him once again.
“I was trying to come back. I was ready,” he said.
“I always felt I was meant to come home.
“Whether Adam was the coach or not, I was always looking forward to coming back, it’s just by luck he was here and I’m really glad that he is to learn under him.
“He is very professional and knows what he’s talking about. I can’t talk any highly enough of him.”
Despite already being confirmed as part of the 2020 Canterbury Cup squad, Soper-Lawler suggested that that was ‘Plan B’, with Plan A being that of putting his best foot forward over the next coming weeks and securing a first-team contract.
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While that’s the hope for the winger, he’s aware of the challenge ahead of him.
“I’ve got to really work hard,” he said.
“I’m not getting any younger, I’m 23 now.
“I’ve got to really put my efforts in the next couple of weeks and see what happens from there.”
The side kick-off their NRL Nines campaign this Friday night at HBF Park against the New Zealand Warriors at 7:55pm (AEST).