ROOSTERS skipper Boyd Cordner reckons it’s just another game.
Try telling that to his five former teammates who will be lining up for the Newcastle Knights at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, intent on extending their unbeaten start to the season.
Newcastle’s squad will include Mitchell Pearce, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Aidan Guerra, Connor Watson and Tautau Moga, who featured in a combined tally of 668 games for the tricolours.
For Pearce, Guerra and Watson, it will be the first time they have played against the Roosters since leaving Bondi Junction at the end of last season.
Yet Cordner was clearly keen to play down the significance of this week’s reunion after his side’s 30-12 win against Canterbury on Saturday.
“It’s just going to be like every other NRL game, mate,” Cordner said. “We treat them the same, approach them the same, prepare the same.”
Knights skipper Pearce, in contrast, was more than willing to discuss what the game means to him.
“It’s obviously exciting,” said Pearce, who played 238 top-grade games for the Roosters between 2007 and last year. “The biggest thing is it will be funny playing against some of my best mates that I’ve known for a long time.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be an exciting game … I think it’s good for the game, to be honest.
“There’s plenty of [player] movement this season and we’ve obviously got heaps of Roosters players.
“Any build-up is good to be a part of, as a player.
“It gives you that little bit of extra drive or motivation, so I’m really looking forward to the game. Coming off two wins to start the year, we’re in a really good position.”
Pearce even had a cheeky dig at the Roosters supporters, only 12,226 of whom attended their first home game of the year – compared to the 23,516 who turned out at McDonald Jones Stadium for Newcastle’s season-opening win against Manly.
“Hopefully it’s a big crowd,” he said. “I’m sure plenty of Knights fans will come down.
“We seem to get a lot more than the Roosters fans, so hopefully we get a few come down on the bus.”
Knights coach Nathan Brown joked that Pearce had promised to “belt” Cordner, although the playmaker quickly distanced himself from that bold statement.
“I’ll be on the other edge, so I’m glad I don’t have to tackle Boyd,” Pearce replied with a laugh.
Pearce has been instrumental in Newcastle’s hard-fought wins against Manly and Canberra, producing a golden-point field goal in round one, and then a game-breaking try-assist for Sione Mata’utia in Sunday’s 30-28 comeback at GIO Stadium.
“Junior came up with the composed attacking play to create the winning try, which is a credit to him,” Brown said. “That’s what we need.”
Pearce, 29, said since linking with the Knights in December: “I can’t wait to play every week. The last two weeks have been like debuting again.”
The undoubted highlight of Sunday’s showdown will be his head-to-head clash with champion former Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk – the man who effectively took the No.7 jersey Pearce had worn for 11 seasons.
Pearce could have stayed at the Roosters to play alongside Cronk, but instead he opted for a new challenge, signing a four-year deal with the Knights.
A strong showing against Cronk on Sunday will only enhance Pearce’s chances of retaining the NSW jersey he has worn in 18 Origins.
His main rival appears to be Penrith tyro Nathan Cleary, who like Pearce has helped his team open the season with two wins in tight games.
The retirement of Cronk and Johnathan Thurston from representative football also means the Test No.7 jumper is also up for grabs.
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