HARD YARDS: Luke Yates, pictured at Newcastle Knights training this month, has been named in a 21-man squad to take on the Roosters on Friday night at McDonald Jones Stadium. Picture: Jonathan CarrollROOKIE Knights forward Luke Yates is not just living his rugby league dream.
Growing up “across the road” from McDonald Jones Stadium and going to nearby Lambton High School, Luke and his older brother, Jack, went to Knights games with their parents, Mark and Robyn, and had aspirations to one day play NRL for the club.
“The family are big Knights supporters and it’s pretty surreal coming through and playing now,” Luke said.
“My brother came through a little bit at the Knights. He’s a year older than meand he was in the under 17s development, and missed out on the SG Ball [under 18s].
“He had three shoulder operations then broke his hip in a car crash, so he’s not really playing footyanymore.”
Luke, 22, has broken through this year and featured in all but one NRL game for the Knights, and Jack, a youth worker at AllambiCare,is among his greatest fans.
Luke said he was now living the Knights dream for both of them.
“He loves coming to games,” he said.“He always gets a big crew together and comes over and watches me play, which is pretty awesome.He came over and watched us play at the Auckland Nines.
“He didn’t come over for round one because it was two weeks later and we were back over there again, but I think he’s pretty proud to see me playing.I know where they sit, so I go see them after the games. It’s good to have that support.”
Yates is still living at home in New Lambton, where his family moved to from Macquarie Hills when he was eight.
A West Newcastle product, Yates made his first Knights junior side at 15 and has made his way through the program with a focus on hard work.
“I’m definitely not bigger than most guys I played with or against,” said Yates, who stands 180 centimetres tall and weighs 94 kilograms.“I just worked on my ability to keep going longer.”
That work ethic has paid dividends this year for Yates, who regularly trained with Mitch Barnett and Brock Lamb, doing extra running, gym sessions and pilates,before pre-season kicked off to get a jump on his teammates. It also helped fill the days Yates was used to spending at work with Lake Macquarie City Council, where he drove fuel trucks in a three-year stint before securing his Knights contract.
“I’mreal close to those lads and we’dget it done in the morning than go for a feed,” he said of the early start to pre-season training.
“Off-season is pretty weird from when Iwas working full-time at the council.You’ve got six weeks off with nothing to do, no commitments, so we thought we may as well fill in some time and get in some training.”
Yates, who has been used primarily as a bench forward, saidphysical training sessions against the likes ofPauli Pauli and Daniel and Jacob Saifiti this year had helped prepare him for the demands of the NRL.
“I haven’t found it too bad, butI haven’t been playing a great deal of minutes,” he said.
“My first couple of games I got a bit morefew minutes out but just the speed of it gets you going.
“Last year I was able to play80 minutes playing in the middle in the Cup, but coming in here,I gass out that quick.
“I think it will bejust learning and seeing when I cantake my breaks.
“I’ve got a fairly good motor.I use my footwork a fair bit just to find the ground and winmy battles, because I’m not going to run over too many middles. I’ve got to find other ways to get through.
“I started against Penrith the other week, which was different. I blew out that quick, Ididn’t thinkI would.I thought I’d make the half or 30, but 25 minutes in, I was on my haunches.
“But I’ll keep developing and getting used to grade andsee where it takes me.”