Departing coach Wayne Bennett has labelled rookie sensation Sione Mata'utia a future Knights captain after the 18-year-old scored three tries in Newcastle's upset win over the Warriors at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
Playing on the left wing as a late replacement for Aku Uate, who has an ongoing knee injury, the former Australian Schoolboys captain scored his first, second and third NRL tries in his fourth appearance in the top grade.
Mata'utia's brother Chanel, who turned 22 on Sunday, crossed on the right wing as the Knights continued a late-season surge with their sixth win from eight games.
Bennett wanted to blood Mata'utia earlier in the season, but under NRL rules had to wait until he turned 18 on June 25 before he could promote him.
''He has wonderful attributes and the great thing about him is, I'll imagine one day he'll captain the Knights and be a great player here for hopefully all of his career,'' Bennett said.
''He's played fullback for us, his preferred position is centre, and he played great on the wing today. It [captaining the Knights] is a long way away for him, but I'm sure one day that's where he'll be heading.''
Mata'utia's first try came in the 10th minute, when Jarrod Mullen chip-kicked behind the Warriors' defensive line and the ball sat up for him to race through and score to give the Knights a 4-0 lead.
He raced 85 metres to score his second in the 26th minute after a Newcastle scrum win 10 metres from their own line, but the Warriors protested that halfback Shaun Johnson was impeded by referee Gavin Morris as the Knights shifted the ball to the short side.
Mata'utia brought up his treble in the 53rd minute with a combination of skill and strength, planting the ball down with his right hand moments before Warriors fullback Sam Tomkins tackled him into touch.
Warriors wingers David Fusitu'a (34th minute) and Manu Vatuvei (76th) scored similar tries, showing remarkable athleticism and awareness to stay in play despite being dragged towards the touch line.
Mata'utia's third try broke a 14-14 deadlock and he was on the spot six minutes later to bat down a pass intended for Fusitu'a as the visitors threatened to launch a long-range attack.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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