On the bench: Sione Mata’utia. Picture: Jay CroninKNIGHTS coach Rick Stone has named Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua in the centres and teenager Sione Mata’utia on the bench in an 18-man squad for Newcastle’s NRL season-opener against New Zealand Warriors at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
Who would partner Gagai in the centres had been the most contentious issue when Stone and his selection committee met on Tuesday to settle on a squad for the first game of 2015.
Gagai played every game last season and Leilua played 22 of a possible 24, and they were two of Newcastle’s most potent attacking weapons.
Eighteen-year-old Mata’utia finished the year as an Australian winger, setting a new record as the youngest-ever Kangaroos representative when he made his Test debut in the Four Nations tournament.
Whether that is how the Knights line up on Saturday remains to be seen because Stone indicated after training on Monday that he could keep the make-up of his starting team under wraps until an hour before the scheduled 4.30pm kick-off.
‘‘Obviously there’s a couple of key positions we’ve still got to sort out, and we might keep those to game day,’’ Stone said.
‘‘It will be up to us to decide what we think is going to be the best balance and formula for the team on the day against the appropriate opposition.’’
As expected, Stone preferred Aku Uate and James McManus as his wingers ahead of Mata’utia, captain Kurt Gidley will start at fullback, and Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts will team up in the halves.
There were no surprises in the pack, as Stone nominated his established back row of Jeremy Smith, Robbie Rochow and Beau Scott behind props Kade Snowden and Korbin Sims and hooker Adam Clydsdale.
Tyler Randell’s impressive pre-season form was rewarded with selection as the bench utility, and he was named alongside Mata’utia and forwards Chris Houston, David Fa’alogo and Jack Stockwell, with one to be omitted.
Reigning Golden Boot Shaun Johnson will spearhead the Warriors, whose pack includes former Melbourne Storm back-rower Ryan Hoffman.
The teams are:
Knights: Kurt Gidley (c), James McManus, Dane Gagai, Joey Leilua, Aku Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, Kade Snowden, Adam Clydsdale, Korbin Sims, Beau Scott, Robbie Rochow, Jeremy Smith. Interchange: Tyler Randell, Chris Houston, David Fa’alogo, Jack Stockwell, Sione Mata’utia (one to be omitted).
Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Tuimoala Lolohea, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Thomas Leuluai, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Ben Henry, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete, Suaia Matagi (one to be omitted).