NEW signing Aidan Guerra says Newcastle should be aiming for nothing less than a top-eight finish next season.
Guerra, who featured in four play-off campaigns and won a grand final during his eight years with the Roosters, is approaching his three-year deal with the Knights with the same mindset and sense of expectation.
“We’ll be hoping to be there in September,” Guerra said. “There’s no two ways about it. Every team starts the off-season with the same goal, and that’s to be in the top eight, and then be in the top four, and then come first eventually.
“I think with the squad that’s here, it’s possible. We will certainly be working towards being there in September in 2018.”
Guerra and fellow recruit Kalyn Ponga, the former North Queensland fullback, joined their new Knights teammates at training for the first time on Monday.
Having spent his entire NRL career at the Roosters, Guerra was disappointed last season when it became obvious the club would not be retaining him.
But after travelling to Newcastle to meet with coach Nathan Brown and football manager Darren Mooney, he embraced the idea of helping resurrect the young Knights after three consecutive seasons as wooden spooners.
“I drove away from that meeting thinking that this was a place I could be playing my football in 2018,” he said.
“It’s a club that’s going in the right direction. You look at the improvement they made from season ’16 to season ’17. They got a few wins there at the end, but I think they were unlucky not to get more.
“You could see that they were building and I’m excited to be part of a club that’s got a little bit of momentum and hopefully will be there to share a bit of what I’ve learned at the Roosters.”
Guerra said the Knights “definitely earned respect” last season, when they won five games and significantly improved their for-and-against statistics after a disastrous 2016.
“As a player that played against them last year, you didn’t come here and think: ‘The wooden spoon. Here’s a team that’s coming last. We can go easy’,” he said.
“You had to show up and play your football. If you didn’t, you’d get caught out.”
Ponga, meanwhile, said he was feeling no pressure after signing what was rumoured to be the richest rugby league contract ever offered to a teenager – reportedly $600,000 a year for four seasons.
The 19-year-old played in nine NRL games for the Cowboys but has already established himself as one of the code’s most exciting prospects.
“I’m just excited to have started … the only pressure I feel is pressure from myself,” he said. “If I work hard and get myself fit, and I’m comfortable with where I’m at, then I’m happy. So I don’t feel too much pressure at all.”
Ponga said it had been an easy decision to sign with Newcastle. “I saw an opportunity and I took it,” he said.
He had noticed “a lot of energy around the place” since linking with his new teammates.