DREAM COME TRUE: Luke Yates will debut for the Newcastle Knights on Sunday. Picture: Jonathan CarrollLUKE Yates never stopped believing that he would one day play first grade for the Knights. Not even when 11 rookies jumped the queue last season and beat him to it.
But as he prepared for his third pre-season with Newcastle’stop squad, the 21-year-old Wests Rosellas product adopteda “now or never attitude” that will be rewarded on Sunday when he makes his NRL debut in Auckland against the Warriors.
“I’m off contract at the end of this year, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to have a go now, if I’m ever going to have a go’,” he told theNewcastle Herald.
“So I ripped in, and this season it just seemed like everything started to click.’’
Yates will be one of two local juniors to step onto the big stage for the first time on Sunday, alongside Valentine-Eleebana back-rower Sam Stone, the son of former Knights coach Rick Stone.
Their physiques contrast starkly. Stone, 19, stands a towering 195 centimetres, while Yates, at 180 centimetres and 94 kilograms, will be dwarfed by some of the giant Warriors forwards on Sunday.
“Mate, everyone’s bigger than me,’’ he said. “It doesn’t worry me. We’ve trained all pre-season, just bashing each other. We go for it. We’re not holding back and I think I’ve handled it, so I’m pretty confident, physically.’’
Yates said he kept believing in himself last season, even when Knights coach Nathan Brown was picking players out of under-20s, or in one case, Lakes United hooker Chris Adams from the Newcastle district competition. He just kept plugging away, eventually being named NSW Cup player of the year.
“I didn’t get discouraged,’’ he said.
“I was playing Reggies [reserve grade] at the time and there was a lot of guys in front of me.
HALLOWED TURF: Luke Yates at McDonald Jones Stadium.
“But I just came into this pre-season with a different attitude. I wanted to have a point of difference with my conditioning and strength, so I started training early and just hit the ground running.
“I think I’ve just trained a bit smarter.
“Igot the jump by starting early in the off-season…it helped me feel comfortable that I could handle myself in the middle.’’
Far from feeling nervous about what awaits him across the Tasman, Yates declared:“I’ve been looking forward to this day forever.’’
Adding to his sense of belief was an in-house poll of Newcastle’s players last week. Asked by coaching staff to choose their first 17 for round one, they unanimously included Yates.
“It’s good to be backed by the whole playing group that I can do the job,’’ he said.
“I’m confident that I’vedone the work, so I’m really looking forward to this game.’’
His parents, who have supported him since his formative dayswith Wests under-eights, will be in the Mount Smart Stadium grandstand.
He is expected to be used as replacement for hooker Danny Levi, although versatile Jamie Buhrer will deputise at dummy-half.
“I mainly play in the middle, but I played a bit of back row in the trial against Canberra and I played there in the juniors,’’ he said.
“I think I’ll be playing a mixture of 13 and back row.’’