Newcastle Rugby League under-19 players are in line to secure a Knights trial for 2018 in this weekend's "futures round".
Sixteen players, best on ground for each under-19 team in rounds eight and 14, will be invited to trial for the 2018 Knights’ NYC squad over the summer.
Under-19 fixtures will be held immediately before or after first grade games on the weekend in a move designed to increase the competition’s exposure to fans.
“We wanted to add a bit more importance to the weekend instead of just having a name and changing when they play,” Newcastle RL chief executive officer Matt Harris said.
“This really demonstrates it is about pathways and futures.”
“We’ll pick eight players this weekend and eight different players in round 14.”
Harris said the program offered a new pathway to players to go to the next level, with Knights under-20 trials previously invitation only.
“I guess the Knights aim is to get the best players to stay here and I guess that’s where we are involved as there are a lot of good footballers that come through our systems and play under-19s and may not get picked up at under-18s at the Knights or even the first year of under-20s.
“We want to make sure these guys get seen as well and this is an important opportunity for that to happen.”
Harris said the Knights trial was part of a continued effort by the Newcastle RL to keep opportunities available for players.
“The under-23s CRL championships by the CRL is an initiative again to try an put those guys who either skipped that system or been in the 20s and come back to our competition another area to be seen.
“Time will be tell over the next couple of years how successful that has been and hopefully as early as next year some guys out of that under-23 rep competition find their way back into the NRL system.
“If they don’t there are still some good opportunites within CRL and Newcastle Rugby League competitions. It’s probably a concern we’ve had that there seems to be a perception from a lot of the players that get cut from 20s that it’s all over.
“They are 19 and 20 years old, it’s far from being all over you shouldn’t be necessarily measured by whether you make NRL or not in sport.
“I guess it’s how we can better communicate those opportunities that exist in our game and the futures round is part of that.
Maitland’s Reeve Howard, Kurri Kurri’s Reid Alchin and Cessnock’s Joe Bromage attended the launch of the future’s round on Wednesday at McDonalds Jones Stadium.
Howard, who started the season at five-eighth in under-19s has been playing in the halves in reserves, said he hopes to be able to line up with his under-19s teammates in what is an important game for them all.
“Hopefully we can all put it together and the best player can get to trial with the Knights,” he said.
“I think it is important though for us to play as a team and not just individuals.”
Howard said raising the profile of the under-19s through the futures round and increasing the pathways for players to go further in the game was a great development.
“I know a lot of the younger players from Maitland have been playing up in reserves and loving all the footy they are playing,” he said.
“It’s been a great opportunity and hopefully we will push up into first grade in the coming years.”
Bromage said he was looking forward to the round and continuing the Goannas unbeaten run this season when they face South Newcastle at Townson Oval on Sunday.
“It will definitely be a good experience to play later in the day, hopefully with a few more people in the crowd,” he said.
“And for the opportunity at the Knights to come out of it, that will pump up the boys to prove a point and perform on the day.”