Newcastle Knights captain Mitchell Pearce has warned fans his side is “still a fair way off” the level of NRL premiership heavyweights such as the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne despite the outstanding success of the club’s recruitment.
Keen to play down the hype and expectation surrounding his new-look side following the signing of stars such as David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and Jesse Ramien, Pearce says the Knights don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Roosters or Storm because “we haven’t proven anything”.
“For us at the moment, we are still where we finished last year – 11th place,” he said.
“We don’t have the right to be talking at their level yet as far as delivering because we haven’t yet. We haven’t proven anything.
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“That’s not saying we are doubting ourselves. There is definitely self belief within this group that we want to get there. We know what we want to achieve and we know how hard it is to get there. We have to keep working hard.
“But at the moment, the Melbournes and Roosters, they’re the favourites for the comp.”
The Knights playmaker, who will be officially appointed sole captain within the next few weeks, does admit there is plenty of potential within the squad.
Given the quality of new recruits that also includes James Gavet, Edrick Lee, Kurt Mann, Hymel Hunt, Zac Woolford and Mason Lino, the Knights’ starting side could feature as many as six or seven new faces for the season opener against the Cronulla Sharks on March 15 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
But Pearce claims the team has to earn their stripes.
“I don’t think there are any limits for us because we are a new group,” he said.
“There are definitely high expectations and goals but at the moment, we are just working at getting our game right and I think results take care of themselves. You might exceed what you think you are going to be this year.
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“We just haven’t set out to compare ourselves to the Roosters and Melbourne and that. Those sides have been pretty solid for a few years and we’ve got to earn our stripes this year.”
While the Knights will run out a beefed up forward pack that should be able to compete with the best in the competition, all eyes will be on dynamic Kalyn Ponga’s switch to the halves and his combination with Pearce.
Pearce says he doesn’t have any doubts his new partnership with Ponga will be a success and has backed the move from day one.
“I think the reason Browny [coach Nathan Brown] wants to play Kalyn at six is because our styles compliment each other,” Pearce said.
“Kalyn’s got everything but he prefers me to take control of the team and do more of the organising which frees him up and I prefer to play that style with my five-eighths.
“That’s a real plus for us that we’ve got two styles that compliment each other. Kalyn could play with anyone though. He could adapt, he’s a brilliant player and it makes my job a lot easier when he’s outside me.
“I had a good time with him last year and he had success at one [fullback] but I’m a real believer in him as a five-eighth and I’ve said that from the start.
“He obviously wanted to move there and we did talk a bit about it. He doesn’t need much assurance. If he puts his mind to something, he’ll make it work.
“He might have his ups and downs like our side will at times when you are a new team but he is going to be a success wherever he plays – he’s a winner.
“Kalyn’s greatest gift, his greatest path is he knows the journey he is on. He is a pretty secure, assured sort of guy for a young guy like all great players.”
Pearce, who is also confident Connor Watson’s shift to fullback will prove to be the right move, says his own game will benefit from having Ponga beside him.
“With Kalyn there as a six, he has the ability to ball-play as well so that frees my game up to play a bit more as a runner at times,” he said.
“As a kid, I used to play a lot of five-eighth before I came into first grade. I was more of a runner to be honest than a ball player.
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“There is so many things with Kalyn’s skill level you can add to your game. We are great mates, we talk a lot about footy and as good halves together, you have to have a good relationship.
“You have to have a lot of love for each other and want to play for each other and me and him have got a good connection so I’m excited where we can evolve to.”
The Knights will play pre-season trials against the Dragons and Sharks.