The Newcastle Knights are “jumping out of their skin” to play the first game of the 2021 NRL season this week, according to experienced campaigner Mitchell Pearce.
The Adam O’Brien-coached outfit tackles the Canterbury Bulldogs, now led by Trent Barrett, in round one at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday evening 12 March.
And, with fullback Kalyn Ponga and five-eighth Blake Green still out of action following surgeries in late-2020, Tex Hoy and Kurt Mann will don the Newcastle No.1 and No.6 jerseys respectively.
State of Origin prop Daniel Saifiti has been named co-captain for the encounter, in what will be his 100th NRL match, alongside hooker Jayden Brailey, making a return to the team after 12 months on the sideline.
Back-rower Tyson Frizell lines up for his Knights’ debut, too.
“We’ve had a good preparation,” Pearce said.
“The boys have worked really hard – and we’re all looking forward [to Friday night].
“In fact, we can’t wait.”
Pearce also secured his immediate future, stating he was “staying on for another year”.
“I’m grateful for the trust from the club and really excited for what’s ahead,” he said.
“It’s time to pay them back.
“To be honest, I never wanted to go anywhere else.
“I just want to get a job done with the boys.
“I feel I’ve got plenty of good footy left in me; I couldn’t be happier.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will also unveil a number of new recruits in Corey Allan (South Sydney), Nick Cotric (Canberra), Kyle Flanagan (Sydney Roosters), Jack Hetherington (Penrith) and Corey Waddell (Manly).
They’re determined to start 2021 on the right foot, too, with a win on the road, after a poor 2020.
Pearce admitted the Knights weren’t taking their rivals lightly.
“The Dogs will be tough,” he said.
“They’re a competitive side, even though they’ve had a lot of changes with their coaching staff and playing group.
“But, we know what we’re up against.
“Hopefully, it’s a big turnout [at McDonald Jones Stadium].
“There’s nothing better than a Friday 6pm game at home.”
Gates open from 3.30pm.
Newcastle Knights: 1. Tex Hoy, 2. Starford To’a, 3. Enari Tuala, 4. Bradman Best, 5. Gehamat Shibasaki, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Jayden Brailey (c), 10. Daniel Saifiti (c), 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Mitch Barnett, 13. Connor Watson. Interchange: 14. Sauaso Sue, 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Josh King, 17. Brodie Jones. Reserves: 18. Hymel Hunt, 19. Pasami Saulo, 20. Jack Johns, 21. Simi Sasagi
Canterbury Bulldogs: 1. Corey Allan, 2. Nick Meaney, 3. Will Hopoate, 4. Nick Cotric, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Jake Averillo, 7. Kyle Flanagan, 8. Ofahiki Ogden, 9. Sione Katoa, 10. Jack Hetherington, 11. Adam Elliott, 12. Corey Waddell, 13. Josh Jackson. Interchange: 14. Brad Deitz, 15. Renouf Atoni, 16. Ray Faitala-Mariner, 17. Dylan Napa. Reserves: 19. Tui Katoa, 20. Chris Smith, 21. Brandon Wakeham, 22. Ava Seumanufagai
Date: Friday 12 March
Gates open: 3.30pm
NSW Cup: 3:45pm
NRL kick-off: 6pm