THE Newcastle Knights will be relying on their battle-hardened veterans to help shatter the club’s longstanding hoodoo at Mt Smart Stadium.
The Knights tackle the Warriors on Friday in Auckland, where they have won only once in their past 12 visits and not since 2012.
No other team in the NRL has endured such a cursed run across the Tasman for such an extended period.
During their golden years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Newcastle enjoyed a dominant record in New Zealand, notching seven wins and a draw from the first nine clashes on the Warriors’ home turf.
But Mt Smart has become a veritable graveyard for Newcastle teams since the retirement of champion Andrew Johns more than a decade ago.
Knights coach Nathan Brown is banking on the hired guns he has signed from premiership-winning clubs – Mitchell Pearce, Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Chris Heighington and Jamie Buhrer – to lead the way this week.
All have visited Auckland with their previous clubs and returned victorious.
“Some of the senior players we’ve got in the club now have been over there and done very well in the past, and I’d like to think some of our younger players have certainly grown,” Brown said.
“In and around there somewhere, I’d expect us to put in a reasonable performance against a pretty fair side.”
Buhrer, who won at Mt Smart with Manly in 2014, said his teammates would not be concerned about “the history or our past record against them”.
He was confident that Newcastle’s younger brigade would have learned from previous trans-Tasman trips and would cope better with the travel factor.
“I suppose the longer you’re in the NRL, the less the travel impacts you,” he said. “Because of the youth of our squad over the last few years, I’d imagine those travels have maybe done a bit of damage to those boys mentally.
“But they’ve got a few games under their belts over there now, and a few older heads here at the club.
“So it’s an important game for us. In the grand scheme of things, we need to start winning games.”
Pearce, although unable to train on Monday because of a corked thigh, is now considered a chance of playing.
Brown said he expects to name the former NSW Origin halfback, who limped off just after half-time in last week’s loss to Wests Tigers, in the squad that will travel to Auckland on Wednesday.
“Mitchell didn’t train, but we’re hopeful of him playing,” Brown said.
Pearce’s first-choice scrumbase partner, Connor Watson, was also unable to to train and is set to miss his third successive game with a groin injury.
"We won't even name Connor this week, I don’t think, so that’s not going as good as we'd hoped, unfortunately," Brown said of his injured five-eighth.
Newcastle suffered another body blow at training on Monday when prop Josh King suffered a thigh injury that left him hobbling.
Brown indicated former Tigers prop JJ Felise, who debuted last week against his former club, would be retained on the strength of his cameo showing off the bench.
Another contender for promotion is towering 20-year-old Pasami Saulo, who has been consistently impressive in NSW Cup.
The Warriors have lost forward Sam Lisone to suspension, and possibly Bunty Afoa as well.
Afoa has opted to challenge a dangerous-contact charge, even though he could have escaped suspension with an early guilty plea.