Matt Kennedy’s served his apprenticeship.
Now, the South Newcastle Lions mentor is ready to step into his first year as the senior team’s full-time coach in 2021.
However, he’s no stranger to pressure.
Kennedy made his NRL debut for the Newcastle Knights against the Sydney Roosters in 2003, playing 16 matches including the grand final qualifier.
He then put together a further 26 appearances before finishing up in 2005.
And, he’s confident in his ability to maintain the successful standards of the famous Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) club.
“This is my fifth season with Souths, after three [years] as the reserve grade coach and as an assistant to Andrew Ryan in 2020,” Kennedy said.
“So, I know the organisation pretty well.
“But, I’m not planning to reinvent the wheel.
“I just want to keep a lot of the things the same, although we need to improve on a few areas.
“One of the Lions’ biggest selling points is its atmosphere and camaraderie – people want to come [and [play] here.
“It’s a great club to be part of.
“That’s something I’m keen to continue.”
In a COVID-19 affected season, Souths reached the 2020 Real NRL grand final, however lost the showdown to the Cessnock Goannas 20-6 at the Maitland Sportsground.
Kennedy actually paid tribute to the side’s rivals.
“Cessnock was too good on the day,” he said.
“We didn’t play our best footy either, but we’ll learn from it.
“So, for the boys who played in that match, that defeat is a form of motivation [for them] for 2021.
“We’re also got a lot of guys returning, too, like second-rower Jake Lawrence.
“As well, we’ve made a couple of good signings in the form of Corey Brown and Jake Dooley.
“Our immediate goal is to make the top five.
“However, it’s going to be tough – that I have no doubt.
“With the Maitland Pickers and Macquarie Scorpions back in the fold, along with The Entrance and Wyong Roos, the competition is as strong as ever.”
Despite losing fullback Lachlan Walmsley (overseas), Daniel Hoogerwerf (Aberdeen Tigers) and, possibly, a few youngsters (to the Knights), Kennedy is certain he has the troops to make an impact again this year.
“The experienced, senior players will need to take ownership of the team,” he said.
“And, I’m looking forward to seeing the new recruits in action.
“They’ve been training great so far.
“We’ve enjoyed good numbers here [at Dangar Park, Mayfield] every Monday and Wednesday evening.
“So, the upcoming trials (against Kurri Kurri – 27 February; Maitland – 6 March; and Wests – 13 March) will be interesting.
“But, everyone’s keen to get back ‘home’ to Townson Oval at Merewether.”