GROWING up in Aberdeen, Alex McKinnon was among the legion of Knights fans who despised arch enemies Manly.
But it wasn’t until McKinnon, who joined the Knights this season, had a conversation with club legend Danny Buderus this week that he completely understood the extent of the rivalry between the long-time adversaries.
‘‘As a kid I hated them, but I didn’t know why I hated them,’’ McKinnon said yesterday.
‘‘I was talking to Bedsy and asked him why the rivalry was so great.
‘‘He explained the Knights’ inaugural game was against Manly, there was the 1997 grand final, and he just said there was always a bit of hate between them.
‘‘It is interesting to know and I’m excited to be a part of it.’’
The clubs have waged some memorable battles since the Knights stunned a star-studded Sea Eagles side 24-12 in the Newcastle Herald Challenge Cup pre-season match in 1988, the Novocastrians’ unofficial re-entry to the big time.
On most occasions Manly have been the glamour boys and the Knights underdogs.
That scenario rings true again on Saturday when the Sea Eagles travel to Hunter Stadium.
Defending premiers Manly sit safely inside the top eight in fifth place on 24 points, four points adrift of leaders Melbourne, and fresh from a 40-24 thrashing of Parramatta.
The Knights are 14th on 16 points and had their tails kicked 34-14 by the Rabbitohs last round.
‘‘We have spoken about the fact that we can only afford two more losses,’’ McKinnon said. ‘‘Obviously winning is very important for us at the moment.’’
The fact the opponents are Manly only adds to the motivation.
‘‘It does,’’ McKinnon said.
‘‘You can tell when people around the club talk about it.
‘‘It means something to them, so it means something to us.
‘‘You never want to let your team down any day, but this game is a bit more important.’’
McKinnon was a bench member of the Knights pack that was steamrolled up the middle by the Rabbitohs.
Luke and Sam Burgess, Issac Luke, David Taylor, Michael Crocker and interchange back-rower Jason Clark rumbled forward more than 100 metres each against the Knights.
McKinnon did not see Manly’s demolition of the Eels but rated their pack among the best in the league.
The Sea Eagles yesterday named NSW lock Glenn Stewart to return from a knee injury, but they will be without his brother Brett at fullback.
‘‘If you go through their pack, it is a pretty good pack and a pretty good team all over,’’ McKinnon said.
‘‘There are times in our game where we can match big packs like that. We have spoken a lot about turning up to play and being aggressive. We weren’t that on the weekend.
‘‘One of our aims is to make sure we turn up with our head on, and I’m sure we can do a job as a forward pack.’’
In the only change to the Knights side, utility Marvin Filipo replaces Kyle O’Donnell, who was knocked out while returning a kick-off against the Rabbitohs.
The battle for the Mal Reilly Cup will be Filipo’s second game in the top grade this year and comes a week after he was named as the NSW Cup representative side players’ player in the Origin curtain-raiser.