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Rugby League: Hard work key as Luke Yates gets nod for Newcastle Knights season opener against New Zealand Warriors

HARD YARDS: Luke Yates will make his NRL debut off the Knights’ bench against the Warriors on Sunday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

NATHAN Brown admits he was wrong about Luke Yates.

What’s more, the Newcastle Knights coach couldn’t be happier.

Yates, a home-grown back-rower who was languishing in reserve grade last season, and fellow local product Sam Stone will make their NRL debuts off the bench in the season opener against the New Zealand Warriors on Sunday.

“This time last year, I honestly wouldn’t have thought he’dbe playing first grade,” Brownsaid on Tuesday.“His selection is based on sheer hard work.In September and October, when a lot of people were holidaying, I don’t think he missed a day of training. He has made some really good improvements. He is such a determined kid and is one of those kids you are happy to see playing.”

Stone, a strapping second-rower, is the son of former Knights first-grade coach Rick Stone and is still eligible for the under-20s.

“Young Stoneyis in his first full pre-season and he has trained extremely well,” Brown said. “He has been around the game his whole life with his old man coaching and understands the game very well.His trial form was good and he is playing in a position where we have a number of experienced players who are not playing at the moment.”

The round one clash across the ditch, where the Knights have recorded one win in the last 11 years, is also an opportunity for towering prop Jack Stockwell.

The 24-year-old fell down the pecking order last year, making the last of six appearances in round 11, and was shopped around to rival clubs.

“The only comment I have made on JackStockwell is that I have never doubted his talent,” Brown said.

As expected, Dylan Phythian was named at fullback for his starting debut and Brock Lamb will wear the No.6 jumpervacated by Jarrod Mullen.

Under new guidelines by the NRL, the 21 man squad named Tuesday will be cut to 19 a day before the game but baring a late injury the top 17 will play.

Brown said Yates, who standsat 180 centimetres, weighs 94 kilograms andwill be dwarfed by some of the giant Warriors forwards on Sunday, had “made some adjustments” to his game.

“What he does prove is that people who are determined and hungry can prove you wrong,” the coach said.“Itis the philosophy of any club that wants to be good –rewarding players for commitment, attitude and effort. Talent does help, but blokes like Luke Yates help a club be happy. I don’t there is a person in the club who doesn’t want him in first grade.”

– Nathan Brown

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