Knights co-captain Mitchell Pearce says he is ready to embrace the history of hatred that has existed between Newcastle and Manly as the traditional arch-rivals prepare to do battle in front of a packed McDonald Jones Stadium crowd on Friday night.
The Knights will usher in a new NRL season with nine club debutants including Pearce, who described the prospect of taking on the Sea Eagles first up in front of a hostile home crowd as “awesome”.
While the rivalry between the two clubs may not be as fierce on the field as it was back in the day when Paul Harragon and Mark Carroll used to wage a personal war against each other, there is little doubt Manly is still the team the Newcastle faithful love to hate.
Pearce, for one, was not about to play down the rivalry when reminded of the history between the sides.
“As a kid, I used to watch all the big games and the ‘97 grandfinal between the Knights and Manly is always one that sticks out for me,”Pearce said.
“All those contests between Chief [Harragon] and Spud [Carroll] back then were unbelievable and there has always been plenty of hate there between the two clubs.
“As as a player, I think it’s awesome.
“We’ll get a massive crowd for the game and you wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t wait for it.
“It will be a privilege to be involved and great to be on the right end of all the support up here as a Knights player.
“I can guarantee we’ll be ready to give it a real good crack for them.”
There was an air of quiet confidence and anticipation among the squad after Thursday’s captain’s run.
Pearce’s co-captain Jamie Buhrer, a former Sea Eagle, said everyone is just excited to get on the field again.
“It’s been a long pre-season but the footy’s back and there has been a general sigh of relief from all the players,” he said.
“We just want to get out there now and put on a good performance in front of what is shaping as a big home crowd.”
Asked about the club rivalry and whether he believes Manly feels as strongly about it as the Knights do, Buhrer said:
“Probably not so much the current crop of players but there is certainly that history there,”he said.
“You speak to the veterans of the Manly teams and there is that hatred and what’s always been a juicy match-up for fans in days gone by.
“You don’t have to go too far back to see that fierce rivalry.”
Buhrer said the Knights have done their homework on the Manly side and predicted a tough battle in the middle of the park.
“They have a great forward pack and with the addition of Joel Thompson, it gives them more depth,”he said.
“The two Trbojevic brothers (Jake and Tom) and obviously Daly Cherry-Evans are the three, along with their forward pack, that are the key to stopping them.
“It’s no secret now how good of a player Jake Trbojevic is.
“Obviously, he has always had the ability to ball-play and with his brother there, they have a really good on-field relationship. They know where one another is.
“We’ve had a good look at it and know he is going to be central to a lot of their ball-playing plans with Cherry-Evans and big “Turbo”.
“We are going to do our best to stop him. He’s a quality player and quality players do their best to find a way.
“We are going to do our best to make it hard for him.”
Backrow enforcer Mitch Barnett missed both the Knights trials but is raring to go and will be an important figure for the home side.