Brock’s not to blame: Fitzy

KNIGHTS forward Lachlan Fitzgibbon has played down the influence of Brock Lamb’s fifth-tackle option which allowed Moses Mbye to run 70metresand score the matchwinning try.
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SHATTERED: Knights forward Lachlan Fitzgibbon reflects on the one that got away against Canterbury on Sunday. Picture: Getty Images

The 20-18 loss on Sunday at Belmore left the Knights deflated after a string of close defeats and Fitzgibbon said no individual can be accountable for the blame.

“It’s the same story in the last few games we’ve lost,” he said.

“It hasn’t been one decision that’s made or lost us the game, it’s been a number of areas that we can continue to work on and get better.”

Fitzgibbon has started in the back row for the Knights in their past five games and played a full 80 minutes on three occasions.

A South Newcastlejunior, Fitzgibbon debuted in 2015 and has now played 12 games for the Knights. Heis one of a host of players off contract at the end of this season.

Speaking before a video review session on Monday, the 23-year-old was unworried about the prospect of an uncertain future.

“I’m just trying to play good footy for the remainder of the season and off the back of that hopefully something comes up at the end of the year,” he said. “I’m just taking it one week at a time at the moment and trying to put my best foot forward and whatever happens, happens.”

The Knights could be without co-captain Sione Mata’utia for Saturday night’s clash with Brisbane after the skipper injured his finger later in the Bulldogs match, which wouldfurther depleteNewcastle’s inexperienced pack.

“Sione’s our co-captain and it’s obviously a big loss if we don’t get favoured in the scans,” Fitzgibbon said.

“He is a loss, but I’m sure there will be boys coming in to fill the void and we should be able to put in a good performance with or without Sione.”

Paea eyeing UK swansong

POPULAR prop Mickey Paea plans to approach every NRL game as if it is his last as he prepares for the likelihood of a return to Super League.
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EXPERIENCED: Mickey Paea was Newcastle’s oldest player against Canterbury.

The 31-year-old veteran was Newcastle’s oldest player in Sunday’s 20-18 loss to Canterbury, which was his first game in the top grade this year.

Off contract at season’s end, Paea is realistic enough to accept that his days in Australia’s elite competition are probably drawing to a close.

But he still feels capable of continuing his career in England, where he achieved crowd-favourite status during four seasons and 106games for Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers between 2012 and 2015.

“Like they say, you’re a long time retired,’’ Paea told the Newcastle Herald. “I’m no spring chicken, but I still think I’ve got a couple of years left in me and hopefully I can get something sorted in the next week or so.

“I’ve got some interest in the UK, so we’ll see what comes of that.

“At first I thought I would never go back there but, at 31, I’d like to finish up on my terms and if there’s an opportunity over there, I’d definitely be keen to take that chance.’’

Combining his previous stint in England with his 72 NRL games for the Roosters, Bulldogs and St George Illawarra –as well as 12 Tests for Tonga –Paea has appeared in almost 200 fixtures since his 2005 debut, as a 19-year-old. He remains as passionate about the game as ever.

“I’m still feeling good, and the body’s good,’’ he said. “I’m fortunate that I’ve had no major injuries.

“I still feel like I can contribute, so I’ll be looking to keep the dream alive.”

Having spent the first four months of the season in NSW Cup, he admitted it was a pleasant surprise to win a recall against Canterbury, even if his cameo stint off the bench was interrupted by an early head knock.

“I’ve spent all the year in Reggies and feel like I’ve been doing my job down there,’’ he said.

“I’m just grateful to get another opportunity in the NRL. It’s the first time I’ve played with a few of the boys so I’m just happy to be back in the mix …especially playing against the Bulldogs, my former club.”

There was speculation in English media last month that Hull FC were interested in Paea returning for a second stint.

TheAirlie Birds, currentlyfourth on the Super League ladder, are the defending Challenge Cup holders after beating Kurt Gidley’s Warrington at Wembley last year.

Meanwhile, Knights officials say co-captain Sione Mata’utia is a chance of playing against Brisbane on Saturday after being cleared of a fractured finger.

Mata’utia had scans on Monday and a surgical wash-out of the wound to his left index finger, which was injured in the second half against Canterbury.

Will the Knights re-sign in-form Peter Mata’utia?

IN-form centre Peter Mata’utia appears in danger of being squeezed out of his home-town club for the second time after Newcastle’s decision to bolster their backlinewith big-name reinforcements.
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The Knights recently recruitedformer Roosters premiership winner Shaun Kenny-Dowall and are reported to be on the verge of signingpowerful Tautau Moga from Brisbane.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Peter Mata’utia.

Kenny-Dowall and Moga are shaping as Newcastle’s first-choice centre pairing for 2018, raising the question of whether the off-contract eldest Mata’utia brother will be required.

Mata’utia underlined his claims for retention with a courageous two-try showing in Sunday’s 20-18 loss to Canterbury after suffering a nasty head wound early in the game.

The 26-year-old has now scored seven tries for the season, the second-highest tally by any Newcastle player after Nathan Ross (10).

Yet Knights coach Nathan Brown was noncommittal about the Samoan international’s chances of staying at the Knights.

“Pete knows where he is,’’ Brown said. “I’ve had a good chat withPete. He’s a real man’s man, Pete, so I can sit down and have a good, honest conversation with him.

“Where it ends up, no one’s sure at the moment, but he certainly had a good, strong game [against Canterbury].”

Brown said Knights officials had “a lot of big decisions to make” in assembling an improved squad for next season.

“We feel we’ve got some good announcements coming up,’’ he said. “Players that can help the club grow.

“Where we go, there’s still a lot of work to be done behind the scenes.

Mata’utia said he was“just focused on trying to make sure we don’t get this wooden spoon” andleaving negotiations to hismanager.

“I’m not too sure what’s happening,’’ he said.

“Hopefully something will work itself out but I suppose that will depend on what the club decide.”

He said if the Knights could add Moga to Kenny-Dowall and Kalyn Ponga (North Queensland), it would be“good for the club, because there’ll be good competition for spots”.

Mata’utia debuted for Newcastle in 2011 but joined St George Illawarra two years later, where he played 35 games before rejoining the Knights last year.He now has 68 NRL games under his belt and scored 23 tries.

His youngest brother, Knights co-captain Sione Mata’utia, said“I’d love him to stay” but was unsure if that would be a possibility.

“He doesn’t want to go either, but it’s a business at the end of the day,’’ Sione said.

“Browny has to make those tough calls.

“Whatever happens, I’m sure there will be no hard feelings either way.

“It’s a big decision. I hope he stays, but if that’s not the case, it is what it is.”

Peter is facing a fine of up to $1500 after being charged withtrippingBulldogsforward Raymond Faitala-Mariner on Sunday.

He can cut the penalty to $1100 with an early guilty plea.

Punching on with the Snowdensvideo, photos

Punching on with the Snowdens | video, photos FAMILY FEUD: Kade Snowden hits brother Jake during a sparring session at Tuff’n’up Boxing Gym. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
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FAMILY FEUD: Jake Snowden, left, with brother Kade during a sparring session at Tuff’n’up Boxing Gym. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

FAMILY FEUD: Jake Snowden, left, with brother Kade during a sparring session at Tuff’n’up Boxing Gym. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

FAMILY FEUD: Kade Snowden shapes up to brother Jake during a sparring session at Tuff’n’up Boxing Gym. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

FAMILY FEUD: Kade Snowden launches a jab at brother Jake during a sparring session at Tuff’n’up Boxing Gym. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

TweetFacebook Kade (red headgear) and Jake Snowden in the ringPictures: Max Mason-HubersThe two heavyweights circle each other in the ring, eyes wary, shoulders dipping and swaying in a lumbering dance. They may be brothers, but they show each other respect.

Former Knights prop Kade Snowden is sparring with older brother Jake at Tuff’n’up gym in Newcastle West in readiness for his first boxing match at a rugby league fight night in October.

The 30-year-old is 18 months into a plumbing apprenticeship after being forced into medical retirement from league last year with neck and back injuries.

Jake, 33, is five fights into a pro career after recovering from a torn retina that almost ended his time in the ring.

The Belmont boys tag each other with a few clean jabs. Jake launches a straight, hard right at his brother’s head –no love lost here –but it doesn’t quite find its mark.

Jake has been back in serious training for two years, although he has been frustrated by a lack of fights. His jabs are sharper and his timing better than his brother’s, but Kade shows decent skills for a relative novice. He throws a clubbing left hook and looks light on his feet.

Trainer Pete Hallett barks orders to the half-dozen boxers hitting the bags next to the ring, but he keeps one eye on his new protege.

“Him and Jake get in the ring and punch the hell out of each other,” he says approvingly.

By the end of two two-minute rounds, Kade’s lack of training is showing.

“A couple of rounds in there is a million times worse than pre-season training. I hate it. I nearly throw up every time,” he grins, noddingat his brother.

“He’s been going good. I go about two rounds with him and then I blow out and then I’m pretty much just a punching bag after that.”

Do they everget hurt?

“Usually him. Not me,” Jake says gruffly.

“I start getting a bit angry so he gets out of the ring,” Kade counters.

Kade started boxing when he played at Cronulla. Ricky Stuart would order his players into the boxing gym during pre-season training to sharpen them up.

The former Test prophas never had a serious bout, but he and Jake have sparred on and off for a couple of years.

He signed an agreement with the Knights last year that he would never again play league, union or AFL, but he is coaching the Belmont South Rabbits in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League B-grade competition.

“I miss it every day. Every time I go to training I jump in and train with them. When it comes to weekends I just want to play, but I know I can’t. It’s good just coaching for the time being.

“Because I retired through injury I had to sign a bit of paper saying I’m not allowed to play football again,but boxing’s OK. It keeps my mind on something.”

Jake has won all five of his pro bouts and hopes to have a shot at a state title this year.He had a year out in 2015 after tearing his retina then won the NSW super-heavyweight amateur belt early last year before turning pro.

He hopes to keep fighting for a couple more years.

“I enjoy doing it. That’s the thing. I don’t really enjoy the training, but I enjoy the fighting side of it. I love it.”

Kade hopes Hallett will find him an opponent for the league fight night, but he is wary about committing to a career in the sport.

“I’ll see how I go after this one. If I win, maybe.”

History of blowouts points to BDAFL challenge

DUOPOLY: Newcastle City have won six of the past nine Black Diamond AFL grand finals, and Terrigal-Avoca have won the other three. Picture: Simone De PeakThe Black Diamond AFL makes no apologies for trying to end the dominance of Newcastle City and Terrigal-Avoca.
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But the league’s equalisation policy, which includes moving to an 11-team first grade next year, may have some teething problems, if history is any guide.

The BDAFL’stop grade has been a six-team affair for the past three years, and those seasons have been among the closest in the competition’s 18-year history.

Indeed, the league itself formed in 2000 as a merger of the Newcastle and Central Coast competitions as a means to address the unevenness of both. The merger has been mostly successful, and the competition has now grown to include three senior men’s grades and a women’s league. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

Blowout scores were a regular occurrence when the top division had more sides.

In the nine-team competition in 2011, Gosford won only once and were on the receiving end of some fearful shellackings, including 40.31 (271) to 0.2 (2) against Cardiff and 50.31 (331) to 2.0 (12) against City.

Lake Macquarie had fared little better the previous season in an eight-team league.

Compare that with this season, whenlast-placed Warners Bay have won only once but have not conceded more than 100 points since round one.

A mere 100-point concession would have been cause for celebration for Gosford or Lake Macquarie at the start of the decade.

Likewise, Warners Bay’s percentage, a calculation of points scored divided by points conceded, is a relatively healthy 71% this year.

History suggests a strong correlation between the number of teams in the competition and the last-placed side’s points percentage.

It has been 71%, 49% and 52% in the past three six-team competitions.

In the seven-team leagues of 2013 and 2014 the last-placed sides had points percentages of 38% and 41%.

Lake Macquarie’s percentage was 25% when they finished last in theeight-team 2010 competition.

Gosford’s in 2011 (nine teams) was just 22% before they folded midway through the season.

Oddly, Gosford had a far better percentage (62) when they finished last and won four games in 2006 in an 11-team top division, but this looks like an anomaly.

The BDAFL moved this year to rein in City and Terrigal, who have won the past nine grand finals, by introducing strict limits on who they could recruit.

Gosford coach Deon Crowden in 2011

City struggled early in the season but have won five straight and last month became the first team to knock off the Panthers. The two could well meet in this year’s grand final yet again.

The league is poised to allow five more teams into the top division next year and cut the number of men’s grades from three to two.

Its long-term strategy may well include a player-points system along the lines of those introduced in local soccer, league and union.

The Black Diamond version could involve a sliding scale which penalisesteams who finished higher the previous season.

This would remove the need to penalise City and Terrigal specifically, which was an unusual policy and bound to be contentious.

Still, City have dug their heels in over the changes.

They didn’t like the recruitment rules and fear they could lose a men’s side and one of their two women’s teams under the proposed new competition structure for 2018, although the league says they could run two sides in reserve grade.

They feel –understandably –like they are being punished for working hard to build their club over many years and that the league should instead help improve the other clubs’ facilities and junior development.

“The BDAFL talk about having competitive football, but we feel condensing it into two divisions won’t promote that,” Blues coach Mitchell Knight said.

“That was why the three-tier competition was brought in in the first place, because there were one-sided results.”

It appears the league will encourage the Blues’ second women’s side and any surplus male players to help form a proposed new inner-city club.

Terrigal president Chris Aitken said allowing more second-tier clubs into the top league would help those teams recruit players. He said they would struggle initiallybut would have to commit to a long-term improvement.

It is all a complicated situation for the BDAFL.

The dominance of two clubs is clearly at odds with the league’sefforts to keep growing the game.

Terrigal celebrate in 2015.

Yet it has itswork cut out convincing City that what is not good for the clubmay eventually be good for the league and the sport in general in Newcastle.

In mid-2011, just before his team pulled up stumps, Gosford coachDeon Crowden warned that the league had to address the unevenness of the competition. The Tigers, whose committee had shrunk to just two, had lost seven first-graders to Sydney clubs and five to BDAFL rivals before the season began.

“They wanted to play where they could be competitive and have some fun,”Crowden said at the time.

“I don’t hold it against the clubs for their success, but something needs to be done to even up the comp or there’s just going to be another 10 years of what we’ve just had.”

The stats suggest the BDAFL went some way to achieving that aim by cutting the league to six teams.

Making an 11-team competition viable will take time and some nimble thinking.