POWERING ON: Knights back-rower Sione Mata’utia takes on the Melbourne Storm defence on Sunday at Hunter Stadium. Picture: Getty ImagesWHEN it comes to judging toughness, retiringKnights enforcerJeremy Smith has earned the right to be called an expert through 208 NRL games and 23 Tests for New Zealand.
And the 36-year-old believes teammate Sione Mata’utia’s effort to play the final 15 minutes of the 20-16 loss to Melbourne on Sunday with a broken jaw, shows he will be “really tough” in the years ahead.
The former Kangaroos wingeris expected tomiss four weeks with the injury, which came in just his second game in the back-row.
Coach Nathan Brown has saidMata’utia’s future is in the pack and Smith believes the 20-year-old showed on Sunday he has what it takes to make the switch work.
“He’s a tough kid and he never takes a backward step,” Smith said.
“It probably just proves the depth ofcharacter that he has got and the man that he will be in years to come.
“He’ll be really tough.”
Mata’utia is one of four players out of Newcastle’ssquad for Sunday’s round 20 clash with leaders Cronulla at Shark Park. Forward Robbie Rochow hashadsurgery to reattach a pectoral tendon ruptured in the Melbourne game and will miss the rest of the season.
Jake Mamo and Daniel Saifiti will miss one game after accepting early guilty pleas to charges from the Storm match.Mamo was hit with agrade two dangerous contact charge and Saifiti agrade one shoulder charge.Mata’utia pleaded no contest to a grade one careless high tackle and received a one-game ban. Hewould have escaped suspension with an early guilty plea but been forced to take on78 carry-over points. The no contest plea means he will cop a ban buthave only five carry-over points.
The Knights named an 18-man squad on Tuesday for the Sharks clash.Queensland Origin starDane Gagai returns from quadriceps soreness to replace Mamo at fullback.Pauli Pauli comes in for Mata’utia in the second row, while Sam Mataora will startin place of Rochow.Jacob Saifiti, Mickey Paea and David Bhana were added to a five-man bench.
Smith said the injuries to Rochow and Mata’utia were a blow but the Knights were “in pretty good spirits” after “playing pretty fair footy” in narrow losses to Canberra and Melbourne.
“Robbie’s a massive loss,” Smith said.“He brings energy in the middle and he talks and it just makes life a whole lot easier when you’re in the middle and you’ve got someone who’s talking to you.
“And Sione, he’s been outstanding since he moved into the back row and he’ll be sorely missed.”
The Sharks belted the Knights 62-0 in round 10 at Hunter Stadium.
Smith said that result wasnot a factor for the Knights this week.
“We’re just about getting our processes right and being consistent,” Smith said.
“We haven’t done that all year, except for probably the last couple of games –that we have been showing signs of being a half-decent football team.
“For us, it’s just getting that right and ticking the boxes again.”
“We’ve set the standard now from the Raiders game. I thought we were a bit unlucky there and then even on the weekend we tossed out a fairly good performance.
“We’ve set thestandards so now we’ve just got to meet those standards and be able to be consistent.”