For virtually the first time in his senior career, Sione Mata’utia tucked into Christmas lunch knowing he has a fight on his hands.
Knowing his position in the Knights’ 17 is no longer guaranteed. That a jumper won’t simply be handed to him in 2019.
“Yeah, I’m feeling it definitely,” the former Knights captain says.
“But it’s an energising feeling. It’s driving not just me, it’s driving everyone in our squad.
“You just look around the calibre of boys at training and we’re all on notice.
“All the competition – it scared me a bit at the start of pre-season. But I just decided to welcome it and attack it. I’ve been at the club through some really tough, low times. It hasn’t been easy.
“But at the end of the day, I want what’s best for the team and we all want that one goal of winning a premiership. If it means me not being in the side, that’s just the way it is and I’ve got to just work as hard as I possibly can to get back up there.
“In the process of that, I know I’ll be a better player for it.”
After a season playing back in the centres out of necessity, Mata’utia is relishing the prospect of a move back into his more favoured backrow spot depending on the fitness of a returning Tautau Moga from a serious knee injury.
Mata’utia says he will be better equipped to handle playing on the edge a second time around.
Two seasons ago, a series of concussions while playing backrow clouded his playing future but after missing just one game in 2018, he is confident that dark period is behind him.
“I’m excited about the prospect of going back,” he says.
“I like playing centre but when I got a taste of the backrow, I was addicted to trying to get in the middle and get among the action.
“I understand I’m that backrower that Browny [coach Nathan Brown] wants who can play a bit of centre or even on the wing so I need to be ready for whatever position he wants me to play. That’s the balance I’ve got to find.”
One aspect of the positional change he will be on top of this time is his weight.
When Mata’utia was first shifted into the backrow, he weighed 97kgs.
He is now around 103-104 kgs and says the extra six or seven kilograms will make a big difference.
“Just the way I run the ball, I get a bit aggressive and I need a bit more weight to go with it now so around 103 to 104 is perfect for me I think,” he said.
“I was a bit light the last time so I want to have a bit of good weight on so I don’t get thrown around like a little kid.
“The secret is being able to carry it for 80 minutes if need be.”
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