By Beth Newman
It wasn’t just AFL fanatics at the Byron Bay AFL 9s Invitational, with some recognisable NRL faces among the sides.
St George Illawarra Dragons winger, Peter Mata’utia was part of Newcastle team, the Lehs, who entered the competition.
A Samoa representative, Mata’utia is in his second season with the Dragons and his fourth in the NRL, after two years with the Newcastle Knights.
The 23 year-old said 9s was a great way to stay fit as he prepared for pre-season to begin, in the first week of November.
“It’s really an excuse to get off the couch and do something,” he said.
“These guys are just here to have some fun and try to win.”
And he says the two codes are not as fat apart as it may seem.
“Definitely there’s the team element of both,” he said.
“There’s a more open field and more room, so you always have to keep an eye on the player you’re marking.
“Running wise, it’s tough.”
Mata’uita said the weekend also doubled as a brilliant opportunity to explore Byron Bay, in his first visit to the area.
Donning Newcastle Knights training kits, the Leh’s were one of the most noticeable sides in the competition, embracing the 9s format.
It wasn’t their first time playing AFL 9s, having played in Newcastle previously.
Mata’uita’s two younger brothers are also NRL players, with the Newcastle Knights and were pencilled in for the AFL 9s tournament, but withdrew.
The youngest of the trio, Sione, is set to be the youngest player since Israel Folau to represent Australian in rugby league, after his selection in the Kangaroos’ Four Nations squad.