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HAPPY DAY: Chanel, left, and Sione Mata’utia celebrate their selection yesterday. Pictures: Darren PatemanSIONE and Chanel Mata’utia will become the first brothers in more than 70 years to make their first-grade debuts in the same game when they run on for the Newcastle Knights against defending premiers Sydney Roosters at Hunter Stadium tonight.
HAPPY DAY: Chanel, left, and Sione Mata’utia celebrate their selection yesterday. Pictures: Darren Pateman
Eighteen-year-old Sione was thrust into the spotlight on Wednesday when Knights coach Wayne Bennett named the former Australian Schoolboys captain toreplace fullback Darius Boyd, who was ruled out indefinitely as he receives treatment for depression.
Bennett dropped another selection bombshell at training yesterday when he named 21-year-old Chanel to replace right winger Akuila Uate, who is struggling with an ongoing knee injury after aggravating it in Newcastle’s 22-8 loss to Gold Coast last Sunday.
League historian and statistician David Middleton said the last ‘‘confirmed time’’ two brothers played their first first-grade game together was in the opening round of 1942, when Doug and Bill McRitchie made their debuts for St George. Middleton said Peter and Graeme Wynn made their debuts for different teams on different days in round one of 1979.
Peter scored a try for Parramatta and Graeme did likewise for St George.
Sione and Chanel will be the second and third of the four Mata’utia brothers to represent the Knights in the NRL.
Their eldest sibling, 23-year-old Peter, played six games for Newcastle in 2011 and 2012 before he left the club at the end of last season to join the Dragons.
Peter, who said he would be at the game tonight, also played against the Roosters when he made his NRL debut for the Knights in May 2011.
Their mother, Maria, has flown back from a family birthday celebration in Samoa to watch her second and fourth sons realise a childhood dream together.
‘‘I think it’s wonderful. It’s just coincidence but both of them have had different journeys to get here, I can tell you,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘Sione was here when I first arrived, playing under-20s, and he’s improved in so many areas it doesn’t matter so I’m really pleased he’s got this opportunity.
‘‘Chanel was the same. He’s improved a great deal as well, and he’s a little bit older than Sione, but again I’m really pleased for him.
‘‘He played for NSW [State Cup] against Queensland [Residents] this year and he was one of the best players there, so he’s always had the ability.
‘‘It was just getting his attitude right. He’s really improved in that area and does a lot of the little things better now than he ever did, so it’s all good.’’
Twenty-year-old Jake Mamo, who made his NRL debut against the Broncos in April, will again replace James McManus on the left wing as McManus has not fully recovered from a toe injury suffered playing for NSW in Origin III.
That means the key positions of fullback and the two wingers will be filled by two debutants and a rookie who has played just five games.
Newcastle’s regular back three – Boyd, McManus and Uate – played 491 NRL games, 32 Tests and 15 State of Origin matches between them.
Bennett believed Sione demonstrated confidence and composure beyond his 18 years, and was comfortable he could handle whatever the Roosters throw at him.
Usually a centre, Sione has played fullback in the team’s National Youth Cup (under-20s) team in recent weeks.
Robbie Rochow (groin) did not train yesterday but Bennett was certain he would play tonight.
Bennett sensed the Knights were keen to make amends for a disappointing performance against the Titans last Sunday, when they could not harness the emotion surrounding the return of injured teammate Alex McKinnon.
But Bennett anticipated the premiers were primed to reach their peak over the closing rounds of the regular season.
‘‘They probably just had a little bit of a hangover from winning a premiership.
‘‘That’s been their biggest obstacle this year but this is the time of the season when they’re trying to come into their own because they’ll want to be there in the playoffs and well positioned.’’