Mick CrawleyTHE Knights are stuck at the wrong end of the NRL ladder with two wins from eight games but the club’s two lower-grade teams are flying high at the top of the table.
Unbeaten after eight rounds with seven wins and a draw, Newcastle’s under 20s (15 points) are three clear of their nearest National Youth Cup rivals Parramatta and St George Illawarra (both 12), and already defeated 2013 runners-up Canberra twice and premiers Penrith once.
Sports betting agency TAB南京夜网.au installed the Knights as $4.50 favourites to win the NYC premiership, ahead of the Eels ($7), Dragons and Roosters (both $8) and Panthers ($9).
In his third season at the club, coach Mick Crawley has a star-studded line-up to work with and three of his players – fullback Jake Mamo, centre Sione Mata’utia and halfback Jaelen Feeney – will show their skills in the interstate under 20s game at Penrith on Saturday.
Mamo, who filled in for injured winger Akuila Uate in Newcastle’s past two NRL games, and Mata’utia were named in the NSW backline, while Feeney will steer the Queensland ship.
Knights halves coach Kevin Walters will be in charge of the young Maroons.
A South Newcastle junior, and the youngest of four brothers who still play (Pat and Chanel) or used to play (Peter) for the Knights, 17-year-old Mata’utia is chasing a winning hat-trick in NSW colours.
He was a member of the NSW under 16s side who defeated Queensland before the State of Origin series-opener at Etihad Stadium in 2012 then scored two tries in the Blues’ 56-6 mauling of the Maroons in the under 18s curtain-raiser before Origin II at Suncorp last year.
The Knights signed 19-year-old Feeney from the Bulldogs at the end of last season.
Coach Rick Stone’s NSW Cup team surged to the top of the table on points difference with a 44-12 rout of the Dogs at Belmore on Saturday.
Newcastle are in a three-way tie with Wentworthville Magpies and Wests Tigers on 12 points but have a superior for-and-against points differential of plus 69.
The Knights have lost just twice this season, to Canberra’s feeder team Mounties and will try to consolidate their share of the lead when they take on Wentworthville in a top-of-the-table tussle at Ringrose Park at 3pm on Sunday.
Paying $6, the Knights are third pick for the NSW Cup title with TAB南京夜网.au, behind equal favourites Cronulla and Penrith (both $4.50).
It will be a busy weekend for Stone, who will coach Fiji in the Pacific Test against Samoa at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday before backing up with the Knights on Sunday.
■ Knights forwards Korbin Sims (Fiji) and David Fa’alogo (Samoa) will get the chance to bang heads in the Pacific Test at Penrith.
Coming off the bench and playing 33 minutes each, Sims (17 runs for 146 metres) and Fa’alogo (16 runs for 150m), were two of Newcastle’s more effective forwards in their 16-12 loss to Canterbury at ANZ Stadium last Saturday.
Speaking before the Bulldogs match, Sims said he would have liked to have appeared in more than the 12 games he played in his debut season last year, but with hindsight appreciated the way coach Wayne Bennett used him sparingly.
‘‘It made me more hungry coming into this season,’’ Sims said. ‘‘I think I’m starting to show that with my impact off the bench.’’
Friends and former Knights teammates Kevin Naiqama (Fiji) and Peter Mata’utia (Samoa) will also square off in the Pacific Test, which will determine which team join Australia, New Zealand and England in the Four Nations at the end of the season.
■ Harold Matthews (under 16s) minor premiers Newcastle will play Canterbury at St Marys at 2.30pm on Saturday for the right to play either Souths or Penrith in the grand final.
The Knights had a week off after they beat Canberra 38-24 in a qualifying final and the Dogs qualified when they beat Balmain 20-16 at St Marys on Saturday.
Newcastle bowed out of the SG Ball (under 18s) finals when beaten 36-28 by Penrith in an elimination semi-final at St Marys last Saturday.
■ The Carlson Club fund-raiser for Alex McKinnon, scheduled for Newcastle Jockey Club tomorrow week, was pushed back until late next month. Some of the club’s major sponsors could not attend the original date.