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Knights relishing NRLW underdog tag

Newcastle's experienced local players have welcomed the underdog status indirectly given to them ahead of their entry into the NRL Telstra Women's Premiership.

Knights duo Jayme Fressard and Caitlan Johnston, who have both played in the NRLW with foundation clubs Brisbane and the Roosters, are two key signings for the Hunter side for the postponed 2021 competition.

The Knights initially struggled to recruit players earlier this year compared to fellow newcomers Parramatta and Gold Coast, causing some to immediately suggest they could find their first campaign difficult. 

However, nine players have since joined the club from New Zealand including Kiwi Ferns stars Krystal Rota, Maitua Feterika and Charntay Poko, while former rugby sevens gun Emma Sykes and AFLW convert Paige Parker are also on board.

Fressard, who finished last year's NRLW competition with a premiership at the Broncos, believes the Knights will surprise many when they run onto McDonald Jones Stadium for their season opener against the Eels on February 27.

"I like that people think we've struggled to attract players to the club, because it means we're going to be underestimated and that should suit us quite well," Fressard said.

"This first season is very much about building the right culture within the team and I think it just took a little bit more time than other clubs, which was fine. 

An unreal year for Women's rugby league awaits

"I love our squad. We've got a lot of young players coming through and we want to develop them as well.

"And then with the Kiwi girls, you don't get too much of an opportunity to play with them so it will be nice to mix their culture and how they play with us.

"They all have international experience and are big, strong girls who I wouldn't want to be running into, I'm glad they'll be on my side.

"But it's ok if people want to write us off, we won't mind that."

Johnston is relishing the chance to rub shoulders with some of New Zealand's best forwards as she continues to develop her own game and push towards higher honours.

Along with Rota and Feterika, the likes of Ngatokotoru Arakua and Annetta Nu'uausala are among the best props in the competition.

"I learned a lot from those girls in the time we had before they went home so I'm looking forward to them getting back to Newcastle in the new year and playing alongside them," Johnston said.

"They've got a lot of knowledge and have had to put the hard yards in and sacrifice a lot.

"I want to see them stay for as long as they can and really build a strong base at the club and the culture we want to set."

Johnston made her NRLW debut with the Roosters in 2019 but missed last year's competition due to injury.

Knights forward Caitlan Johnston was the club's first inaugural signing.
Knights forward Caitlan Johnston was the club's first inaugural signing. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

The Belmont local said her return to Newcastle once an NRLW club formed was inevitable.

"I've got a lot of family in Newcastle and a lot who can't travel so for me it's a big thing to be able to have them see me play and have a home crowd in that first round," she said.

"I have the feeling of wanting to give back to the Knights. I started in the Tarsha Gale Cup with them for two years and went through that pathway.

"It's my chance to come home now and lead from the front."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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