LAST season South Sydney handed out two convincing beatings to the Newcastle Knights, leaving master coach Wayne Bennett to concede his players had been physically intimidated by bigger, stronger opponents.
It was only a trial match, but Saturday’s 18-6 win at Coffs Harbour would suggest Bennett’s troops are far less likely to be bullied around in 2013.
New signings Jeremy Smith, Beau Scott and David Fa’alogo all played 40 minutes and showed glimpses of the hard edge Bennett hopes they will provide.
Smith, in particular, wasted no time in living up to his kamikaze reputation.
In the 20th minute, he rattled Issac Luke with a jolting hit that left his his Kiwi Test teammate down on his haunches.
Ten minutes later, the former Melbourne, St George Illawarra and Cronulla enforcer and Willie Mason were placed on report for a high shot on Souths forward David Tyrrell that will be scrutinised by the match-review panel.
Souths skipper Michael Crocker, who played alongside Smith for several seasons at Melbourne, had no doubt what his former teammate would instil in Newcastle.
‘‘I think he brings a lot of confidence to a side.
‘‘The way he defends, the way he talks. He’s a real leader,’’ Crocker said.
‘‘People follow his actions so he’s definitely going to be good for them.’’
A hard man in his own right, Crocker gave Newcastle’s rugged new pack his nod of approval.
‘‘I think they’ve recruited really well,’’ he said.
‘‘Jeremy Smith, Beau Scott – it really adds a little bit more toughness to their back row and they’ve got a really aggressive forward pack now. They get a lot of momentum from that and their backs just make the most of it.’’
Souths coach Michael Maguire was also impressed with Newcastle’s discipline and resilience under pressure – two traits that were in short supply last year.
‘‘I think it was typical of a Wayne Bennett sort of style with their completions,’’ he said.
‘‘That’s the strength that they showed today,’’ Maguire said.
‘‘When you’re hanging on to the ball, you’re building pressure.’’