FIRST CHOICE: Rookie utility Dylan Phythian will get first crack at the Newcastle Knights No.1 jumper. Picture: Marina Neil
NATHAN Brown doesn’t expect Dylan Phythian to be the next Darius Boyd – or Kalyn Ponga –but the Knights coach has backed the unheralded utility tobe a success at fullback.
The 21-year-old will start in the No.1 jumper in the final trial against Canberra at Seiffert Oval on Saturdayand, baring a disaster, will get the nod for theseason opener against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland on March 5.
“He is a naturalfooty player and ticks a lot of boxes,” Brown said.“It is a big ask, fullbackis one of the toughest positionson the field.We would like to think he could do a really good job and stay there.He understands the game well, which is good, and physically he will handle it.The players and the coaching staff are very confident in him, but the proof will be in the playing.”
Brown had hopedthat Ponga would be released from the final year of his Cowboys contract after signing the 18-year-old on a four-year Knights deal from 2018.
The Cowboys refusal combined with Jake Mamo’s departure to English Super League club Huddersfield has left a hole at fullback.
Brown attempted to convertJaelen Feeneyfrom a half into a fullback last season, a move which was aborted after two rounds.
Phythian, who made his NRL debut off the bench at hooker last season, has also playedthe majority of his career in the halves.However, unlike Feeney, he has the benefit of a season at fullbackin the Knights under-20s.
“It is not an uncommon position and is quite natural for him,” Brown said. “He doesn’t have to be the best player in week one or week two. Certainly one average performance is not going to cost him his spot.”
Phythianhas spent the pre-season working closely with Knights assistant coach and two-time Dally M-winning fullback Michael Potter.
“I have been doing a lot of video with Potts,” Phythian said.
A lot of the footage has centred on Australian fullback captain Boyd.
“He is one of the best, especially in defence,” Phythian said.“The way we are defending this year, I want to model it off him. In attack he is always supporting and can play out the back as well.”
Brown agreed that Boyd was a good example to follow but“I’m not going to be putting any labels on Phyth about that”.
Phythian, fitter and stronger from a first full pre-season, expects to be targeted by the Raiders.
“They haven’t seen a lot of me, so I’manticipating they will test me out with a few high balls and try to catch me out of position,” he said.
In the corresponding game played in Orange last year, theKnights were no match for a full-strength Canberra in the first half and trailed34-6. Both teams made changes at the break and the Knights finished the stronger to go down 34-28.
Former Queensland bulldozer David Taylor has been named in a top-line Raiders side for Saturday.
“It is a great test this week,” Brown said. “Whether it be on the edges or in the middle they will all get a physical test. I am very excited about it and I expect us to do a little bit better than last year.”
Recruits Ken Sio (wing), Josh Starling (prop) and Jamie Buhrer (second-row) have been named in the starting side, but recent arrivals Anthony Tupou and Joe Wardle are still a few weeks away.
Tyler Randell and Feeney have minor injuries and Sam Mataora is working his way back to full fitness after a disrupted pre-season.