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Before Mitchell Pearce ended up as Newcastle's No.7 and captain, Cameron Smith rang him with a Storm sales pitch.

Cooper Cronk's move to the Roosters had Pearce hunting for a new home, and Smith figured "we'd be crazy not to look at him" as the NSW half weighed up his future in late 2017.

The call amounted to nought beyond a few more informal discussions, before Pearce took up a four-year Knights deal that has him facing Smith and Melbourne this Saturday at Gosford.

In Pearce's red and blue corner is rookie coach Adam O'Brien, Craig Bellamy's former assistant and Storm staffer for 11 years who is now shaping Newcastle with similar traits in mind.

Quizzed on several facets of Saturday's showdown, Pearce kept a lid on hype around Newcastle's undefeated start to the season by throwing to the 15-year benchmark Melbourne has been setting.

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Not least the 34-4 round 14 touch-up the Storm inflicted last year, ending Newcastle's six-game winning run after which they went 3-8 to miss the finals.

"They did teach us a big lesson down there, Melbourne, when we were down there after a streak," Pearce said on Wednesday.

"It's a long year and we've started in decent form but we've got a lot of improvement to go and we've got to turn up again on Saturday and bring what we [already] have and more."

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Both teams have question marks over their halves.

Kurt Mann is battling an ankle issue to partner Pearce, while Melbourne have Ryley Jacks, Cooper Johns and Nicho Hynes training in the halves with Jahrome Hughes out injured.

"Melbourne are a world-class team, they've been a great side for a long time," Pearce said when asked about who might line up opposite him.

"The great thing about Melbourne over the years is that whoever comes into their side does a great job and they've been proving that for a long time.

"Whoever comes into that No.7 jersey, we're going to have to shut down."

And it's defence that has been the cornerstone of O'Brien's overhaul in Newcastle.

For all the focus on the game's new six-again rule bringing attack to the fore, Pearce gives a very Melbourne-like take on the NRL's ongoing evolution.

"Like all teams we're all still adjusting to the new rules," he said.

"As much as people are talking about the attack side of the things, it's built on the back of defence.

"Each coach has different systems and we've worked hard on ours from day one.

"We've worked hard on our resilience and our toughness. Looking in when things get tough.

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"I've been really happy we've how we've been going as far as our defence. We've made improvements there, but it's a long year and it only gets harder and harder each week. It's a massive challenge this week for us."

So back to that call from Smith, when he pitched up the prospect of joining the Storm rather than working to emulate them.

"Cameron Smith's the best player I've ever played against and an absolute champion of the game," Pearce said.

"So back a few years ago that was a great feeling to be acknowledged from Smithy. To get a call from Cameron Smith is a great privilege.

"But I'm really happy up here and I think both of us would agree that's a long time ago now. I'm sure he'll be doing everything he can to get his team over the line on Saturday and I'll be trying to lead my side as well as I can."