IF you haven’t noticed, it is rivalry round in the NRL this weekend and the Newcastle Knights have been busy spruiking their ingrained hatred of Manly Warringah.
First-year Knights Alex McKinnon and Willie Mason have both given their personal experiences of hating the Sea Eagles while growing up in the Hunter.
The Newcastle Knights take on the Manly Sea Eagles at Hunter Stadium tomorrow. The game kicks off at 5.30pm.
‘‘As a kid I hated them, but I didn’t know why I hated them," McKinnon, an Aberdeen junior, said on Tuesday.
‘‘I was talking to Bedsy [Danny Buderus] 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.’’
The general cliche footballers like to spit out is ‘‘we’re only focusing on our own game this week’’.
But this was not the case on Wednesday at Knights training when Mason told the media Manly had been a major topic of conversation.
‘‘Guys like Danny Buderus who have played a lot of games for the club and is a legend of the club is getting everyone to buy into it,’’ Mason said.
‘‘A lot of these kids haven’t played much first grade, let alone know about the rivalry, so the few of us who do know about it are getting everyone to buy into it.’’
But, down on Sydney’s northern beaches, do the Sea Eagles really care about the Knights? Do they consider the boys in blue and red arch enemies, or is this rivalry only emanating from the northern end of the F3?
During the 1990s there was genuine hatred between the clubs. The notable flashpoints were the 1995 collision between Paul ‘‘Chief’’ Harragon and Mark ‘‘Spud’’ Carroll and Newcastle’s historic 1997 grand final upset over the Sea Eagles.
For the past five seasons the Sea Eagles have been busy winning two premierships and regularly playing semi-final football, but the Knights have struggled to rebuild in the post-Andrew Johns era.
These days at Brookvale Oval fans expel more bile for their bitter clashes against the Melbourne Storm or the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The violent fight between former Storm forward Adam Blair and Manly counterpart Glenn Stewart last year highlighted the feud between the NRL heavyweights, and Des Hasler’s defection to Belmore has guaranteed that his return to Brookie next Friday night as Bulldogs coach will be one of the most eagerly anticipated matches this season.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey even had to fend off questions this week when asked if his team were already looking ahead to the match with the Bulldogs.
‘‘Newcastle on the road are a big enough challenge to worry about – that’s always a difficult trip,’’ Toovey told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘‘We’re very professional in terms of concentrating on one game at a time.’’
It is the Novocastrian faithful who need the rivalry as part of their identity, especially now that Nathan Tinkler’s Knights have more cash than the so-called silvertails and supercoach Wayne Bennett is in their corner.
And considering the Knights’ position on the ladder, they are more in need of the passion of yesteryear’s triumphs to inspire them to a vital two points.