FOCUSED: Sione Mata’utia scored one try against South Sydney and produced two try assists. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAPAS he crashed through a Greg Inglis tackle to score against South Sydney last Friday, it was hard to believe that just a few months agoSione Mata’utia’s career was in doubt.
The Newcastle centre and youngest-ever Kangaroo spentmuch of the summerwith a cloud hanging his future, after a series of concussions prompted medical experts to advise him to stand down from the final two games of last season, and also from representing Samoa at the 2017 World Cup, while he underwent a battery of tests.
Moreover, Knights officials were sufficiently concerned to put contract talks on hold, fearing what might become of a multi-million dollar investment should Mata’utia suffer a recurrence.
Nine games into the season, the 21-year-old believes he has answered any such queries the only way possible –with game-day performances.
Other than a head-injury assessment against the Roosters in round three, which cleared him to return to the field after a heavy collision, he has experienced no other dramas.
And as he showed in the 36-18loss to Souths, when he scored one try and threw the final passes for Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s brace, he is recapturing the attacking quality that earned him a green-and-gold jersey four years ago, at the age of 18.
With the benefit of hindsight, Mata’utia said he now appreciatesthe precautionary approach recommended by theneurological experts.
“I think the three months off in the pre-season where I did no contact really helped out a lot, and the specialists the club brought in…they all had a good part to play,” he said. “I’m a lot better now, which is good.”
Mat’autia said as soon as he received a clearance to resume full contact, his attitude was to train and play “without fear”.
“I put it behind me once I got the clearance and once I got everything sorted,” he said. “It was important that I had to move on …[now]It’s nine games in, and I’ve had a few head knocks, and I’ve come through it pretty well.”
Well enough for Knights officials to resume negotiations with the young veteran of 76 top-grade games and three Test matches.
“With my clearance with my head, it’s a big positive,” he said. “Hopefully we can get pen to paper as soon as we can, but I’m in no rush.
“I need to focus on my footy, and that’s why we’ve got player-managers.”
Predominantly a left-side specialist in his first four seasons in the NRL, Mata’utia has found a new home this year on the right edge, partnering Kenny-Dowall.
Although he was disappointed with a couple of defensive lapses against Souths, all four of Newcastle’s tries came from right-side plays –including the 35th-minute effort in which he powered past Inglis.
“To beat one of your idols is pretty good, but I guess I was just in the right spot at the right time,” he said.
“The boys inside me did the work for me, and I just had to finish it off. But it’s good to get a meat pie.”