Finding a home for young star Sione Mata’utia is among the chief priorities for new Newcastle coach Nathan Brown as he attempts to revive the premiership fortunes of the NRL wooden spooners.
After becoming the youngest ever Kangaroo during the 2014 Four Nations series, the 19-year-old endured a forgettable 2015 season as the Knights limped to a last place finish.
Mata’utia was played in a number of positions, including centre, wing, back-row and off the bench, by sacked coach Rick Stone, after initially making his name as a winger under former mentor Wayne Bennett.
The former Australia schoolboys captain shapes as a key figure in a Newcastle roster that has undergone considerable change.
Brown said one of his first moves as coach was to find out the best spot for one of the NRL’s greatest rising stars.
“We want to try and find a home for him that is the key,” Brown said at the Knights’ first day of pre-season training at Newcastle Basketball Stadium on Thursday.
“For his own state of mind we have to work out whether we play him at fullback or centre.
“He will have a fair say in that, because it is his future.
“He didn’t have the best time there at fullback last season, but he is happy to train in two spots at the moment and we will see where it leads us.”
Brown was careful not to heap too much pressure on the youngster who debuted for Australia at 18 years and 129 days, beating Israel Folau’s record.
“To play for Australia at that age shows what talent he has but there is really not anyone who is ready to play for Australia at that age,” Brown said.
Brown returns to the NRL after coaching St George Illawarra from 2003-2008, before heading up Super League outfits Huddersfield and St Helens.
He welcomed Trent Hodkinson and Mickey Paea as important additions to his side, and confirmed Mick Potter and Mark Andrews as his assistant coaches. Alex McKinnon has joined the club in a recruitment and retention role ahead of the 2016 season.
Jarrod Mullen is the favourite to succeed Warrington-bound Kurt Gidley as Knights captain, with Hodkinson another leading contender.