HARD YARDS: Akuila Uate has trained tirelessly during the pre-season.
KNIGHTS winger Akuila Uate appearsprimed to bounce back from two lean yearsafter one of the best pre-season preparations of his career.
Having battled aknee injury in 2014 and 2015, there were rumours at the end of last seasonthat Knights officials were keen to offload the Fijian flyer if anotherclub had been willing to take him on.
But Newcastle coach Nathan Brown said the 28-year-old hadbeen “outstanding” over the summer and looks set to start theseason in top shapeagainst Gold Coast on March 6.
“He’s been really, really good,’’ Brown told theNewcastle Herald.
“Not only himself, but he’s been helping the younger players, as well.His discipline and preparation has been brilliant, and he’s been really good in helping some of the younger guys.’’
Asked if Uate was capable of winding back the clock and recapturing the form he showed between 2010 and 2012, when he scored more tries than any player in the NRL, Brown replied: “I can only go on what I’ve seen on the 10 or 12 weeks since I’ve been here, and he’s been outstanding.
“We’re confident he’s going to have a good year.
“He’s trained really well, he’s one of the few players in the club with a lot of experience and he’s setting a good example for the other players with his attitude.
“When he was in rehab, the way he treated his injury was top class, and on the field at training his attention to detail has been really, really good.
“He’s offered some good advice to our young fellas and I can’t fault him.’’
Uate shapes as one of Newcastle’s main weapons in next month’s Auckland Nines tournament.
“I would have thought he’d play,’’ Brown said.“He’s keen to play and as a bit of a cult hero, I think the crowds would like him to play.
“He’s an entertainer, so he’s definitely someone we’ll be looking to play.’’
Uate is Newcastle’s most prolific tryscorer with 109 four-pointers in 151 NRL games, 16 tries more than the next best, Timana Tahu.
Between 2010 and 2012, he scored a phenomenal 59 tries in 69 games and represented both NSW and Australia.But since then his scoring ratio has dropped from 15 in 24 games (2013), to 12 in 15 (2014) to 12 in 22 last season.He was nonetheless Newcastle’s top tryscorer during a bleak2015 campaign that left the club as wooden spooners.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s hopes in the Nines have received a boost after dispensation was granted for Tariq Sims and Sione Mata’utia to play, despite being suspended.Sims copped a five-game ban for a shoulder charge in Newcastle’s last-round loss to Penrith last season.
Mata’utia was outed for one game for contrary conduct. They have been cleared to play in the Nines but those games will not count towards reducing their suspensions.