KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett says playing the Storm at AAMI Park is the ultimate challenge as Newcastle prepare to bury their eight-year losing hoodoo in Melbourne.
Newcastle have not won in the Victorian capital since their 46-6 victory in 2004.
Since then they have suffered eight consecutive defeats by a combined tally of 274 points to 56.
Melbourne are the NRL’s only unbeaten team after four rounds and even after ending Canterbury’s winning streak on Sunday with a 20-6 triumph, Bennett acknowledged the Storm would represent a step up in class on Friday night.
‘‘They’re a quality football team,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘Craig [Bellamy] always turns out really good teams and they always put an effort in.
‘‘They’re probably close to the benchmark in the game at the moment.’’
Asked if this was the toughest assignment his team have encountered this season, Bennett replied: ‘‘I think so.
‘‘Well these games have been hard up until now.
‘‘We had a tough five weeks when the draw first came out.
‘‘We always thought the teams we were playing were going to be pretty formidable, and they’ve turned out to be that – Broncos, Dragons, they’ve been clubs near the top for a long time – and we had Cronulla, of course, and they’ve hit a bit of a patch since they played us.
‘‘Melbourne is kind of the icing on the cake after Canterbury, who are a top team.
‘‘All of a sudden we’re in Melbourne now, and it doesn’t get much more difficult than Melbourne on Friday night.’’
Knights skipper Kurt Gidley said Newcastle would take a positive mindset and momentum into the game after their much-improved display against the Bulldogs.
‘‘Melbourne down there is always tough, but I’m really looking forward to it actually, especially coming off a good win,’’ Gidley said yesterday.
‘‘It would have been a bigger task maybe if we’d lost yesterday and were a little bit down on confidence.
‘‘But we’ve all rolled in today and everyone’s OK and we’re looking forward to it.
‘‘When you come up against the good teams, especially Melbourne, you enjoy those good, tough games.’’
Gidley has few fond memories of Melbourne, having suffered a broken cheekbone there in 2008 and a dislocated shoulder last year.
Veteran hooker Danny Buderus, who will renew acquaintances with long-time rival Cameron Smith, said playing in Melbourne was ‘‘definitely’’ the toughest road trip in the NRL.
‘‘They’ve got a great team down there and they’re really well coached and they’re flying high,’’ Buderus.
‘‘It’s a massive challenge for us as a group.
‘‘On a short turnaround, it’s a tough one.
‘‘It’s a huge challenge and Wayne will be at the forefront this week to pull us all together.
‘‘It’s going to be a big night out and will definitely tell us where we’re sitting.’’
Test winger Akuila Uate (hip) and prop Adam Cuthbertson (knee) are both expected to be reinstated to Newcastle’s starting side today after missing Sunday’s win because of injuries.