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What position will Sione play when Jesse Ramien joins the Knights?

FOR five seasons now, he has been one of the first players named on the Newcastle Knights’ team sheet.
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But even after what rates as perhaps the best campaign of his career, Sione Mata’utia admits he faces a challenge to nail down a position in the starting line-up next year.

VERSATILE: Sione Mata’utia has played fullback, wing, centre and back row in his five seasons with the Knights. He is expecting to face stiff competition for a starting berth next year. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

After debuting in the NRL as an 18-year-old winger and fullback, Mata’utia was switched to the back row by coach Nathan Brown midway through 2016.

This season he has played exclusively as a right-side centre, but Brown has recruited emerging Cronulla star Jesse Ramien specifically to fill that role.

Mata’utia is also capable of playing on the left edge, but if Tautau Moga makes a successful return from his knee reconstruction, he would appear the preferred candidate for that job.

The first-choice wingers are expected to be veteran Shaun Kenny-Dowall and new signing Edrick Lee, although Nathan Ross is unlikely to surrender his first-grade spot without a fight.

That will leave Mata’utia competing with Mitchell Barnett, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Aidan Guerra, Sam Stone and possibly Jamie Buhrer and Luke Yates for a back-row berth.

“I’ve had a little chat to Browny about playing second-row or centre, but looking at the team now, you probably don’t want to move our back-rowers, in Fitzy and Mitch Barnett,” he said.

“They’re playing some good footy.

“Look, that’s going happen in the pre-season.It’s going to be a tough struggle for whoever is going to play there, but where I play won’t matter as long as I play some footy …

“As long as the best players are playing, I’ll be happy with that.”

A young veteran of 85 NRL games and three Tests for Australia, Mata’utia was hopeful the extra competition for selection would push everyone to reach a new level.

“It’s always good,” he said. “It will be healthy for the playing group and the club itself.

“Young Jesse Ramien has showed that he’s a quality player who can play first grade, week in, week out.

“I know him personally. He’s a good bloke and he’ll be good to have at our club.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what turns out next year …but obviously we’ve still got a couple of games to go and we’ll worry about that when the time comes.”

Mata’utia, who has missed only one game this season after suffering a fractured eye socket against Parramatta three weeks ago, was happy to fit in wherever Brown felt he wouldbest suit the squad.

“I think I’m one of those players who is pretty versatile and can play anywhere,” he said.

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