Warriors expect 'galvanised' Newcastle
As if picking up a dreaded wooden spoon with just a win and a draw to show for in 2016 wasn't enough, the Newcastle Knights have battled through a pre-season dogged with off-field distractions and injuries to key players.
Since the end of last season the Knights have lost the services Jarrod Mullen to suspension (pending an ASADA investigation), had prop Pauli Pauli and off-season recruit Rory Kostjasyn suffer serious injuries, and appeared in the headlines as former winger James McManus pursues legal action against the club.
But the Warriors believe that is only going to make Newcastle a tougher opponent come this Sunday's NRL Telstra Premiership clash at Mt Smart Stadium, with Ryan Hoffman drawing comparisons to what his former club the Melbourne Storm went through after being penalised for salary cap breaches in 2010.
"It galvanises a team more than anything," Hoffman said of the Knights' woes.
"That is certainly what I have experienced, when teams have gone through hardship it galvanises the team even more.
"They can't control that, that's happened and that's done.
"Knowing the players they have got and their coaching staff, they are not going to let that affect their team.
"They are a battle-hardened team with what they went through last year, they went through some really tough times and I think they are going to come out of it a better squad.
"They will be making sure they don’t experience that again…it's going to be a really good test for us first up."
The Warriors eased past Newcastle in both of their meetings last year, piling a combined 90 points on the Knights while conceding only 32.
But prop Jacob Lillyman said Newcastle's pre-season form suggested they would be a vastly different beast come Round 1.
"I guess there is no danger of taking them lightly, you only have to look at what they did to Canberra a couple of weeks ago in a trial… 44-0, you don't fluke that kind of result," Lillyman said.
"They are primed for a big year and are going to look to start off with a really strong result."
Meanwhile coach Stephen Kearney gave an insight into the likely look of his 17 for Sunday's clash, declaring 18-year-old forward Isaiah Papali'i a certainty to play while providing an update on back-rower Bodene Thompson's ankle injury.
"Isaiah will definitely be making his debut…it's probably how [Bodene] pulls up after a couple of runs, he had a full week last week and a session on Monday, and again [Wednesday].
"I am not too fussed about the fitness, if [Bodene] is to play he will be coming off the bench in a limited capacity. He works pretty hard so it's more whether he can get through with his ankle."