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Knights forward David Klemmer.

Call it the weight of expectation.

Only that can explain why David Klemmer said he felt more nervous going into his first appearance for the Newcastle Knights on Friday night than before any other game in his career.

More than his 12 State of Origin games for NSW, more than his 17 Test matches for Australia, and more than the 2014 Grand Final or any one of his 113 NRL encounters with the Bulldogs.

As Newcastle's hired muscle, as the long-awaited pack leader the Knights and their legions of fans have yearned for since Paul Harragon retired 20 years ago, rightly or wrongly, Klemmer did not want to let anyone down.

It hardly showed as the 25-year-old engine-room recruit steam-rolled several Sharks defenders in his first run of the game at McDonald Jones Stadium, or the 19 other charges he made while rumbling to a game-high 218 attacking metres and inspiring Newcastle to a 14-8 victory.

"It was pretty special," Klemmer told reporters after the game.

"I was pretty nervous. Out of my whole career, that's probably the most nervous game I've ever been in. I just felt really nervous but the boys did a really good job tonight."

Knights prop David Klemmer.
Knights prop David Klemmer. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

Pushed for clarification about his feelings heading into his Knights debut, Klemmer gave an insight into how aware he is of the impact the club has on the Newcastle and Hunter community, and what a competitive team can do for the region's morale.

"Everything," he said.

"I know how much this team means to this community and the culture we're building here as well.

"I just wanted to get off to a good start and I didn't want to let anyone down. That was probably the biggest thing. I didn't want to let my team-mates down, or the town."

Though playmakers Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce and dummy-halves Danny Levi and Kurt Mann were not talked up as match-winners last Friday (even by their own coach), Klemmer deflected attention away from himself and said they had a significant influence on the result.

"We versed them [in a trial at Maitland] a couple of weeks ago but I thought we did a lot in the last 14 days to get back to where we should be, and I can't praise Kalyn, Pearcey, Danny and Kurt Mann enough," he said.

"They really managed the game really well and made us big guys' job a lot easier, and defensively, I thought we really turned up for each other as well.

"My job was easy because everyone was there supporting me, and I can't praise the blokes I played with enough. They were awesome."

Brown described Klemmer’s performance against the Sharks as "huge", but was just as pleased with the efforts of fellow middle forwards James Gavet and Tim Glasby, and the continued improvement and maturity shown by young back-rowers Sione Mata'utia and Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

To compete with, and beat, a team like Cronulla, who had manhandled the Knights in winning their previous eight encounters, was critical for Newcastle to establish early credibility this season.

Klemmer said Cronulla's experience was as important as their perceived physicality.

"They know how to play rugby league and they know how to win footy games," Klemmer said.

"They've played for their state, their country, and they're experienced guys, but as a team we worked really hard for each other.

"The last five or seven minutes, that was pretty tough and they were throwing the ball around with their attacking players, but I thought we turned up really well. I couldn't be happier just to be out there with these blokes and get the win."

That came down to their commitment in defence and desire to work together, but Klemmer said they must continue to produce the same effort and energy against Penrith at McDonald Jones Stadium next Saturday, and against every other opponent throughout the long season ahead.

"A big thing for us in off-season was defence, and they only scored a penalty try," he said.

"I thought Eddie Lee was good on that [left] edge as well, and as a whole unit we were pretty good defensively. They've got some great attacking players and we knew we had a big, big task coming into this week but everyone knew their role and we wanted to win as well.

"Obviously we're going to have some speed humps but it's a learning curve, and that's how you win footy games.

"We'll take a lot out of that but we've still got a lot to learn from … so we haven't earned anything by winning tonight. We laid a platform, but we've got to keep building on it."

Match Highlights: Knights v Sharks

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