FOR 20 years it has been a graveyard that the Newcastle Knights have visited with a sense of dread.
But on Friday night, the Knights tackle reigning NRL premiers Melbourne at AAMI Park with genuine belief that they can end their cursed run in the Victorian capital.
Since the Storm’s foundation season in 1998, Newcastle have won only four of 21 games played in Melbourne – twice at AAMI Park (2013 and 2015) and twice at Olympic Park (2002 and 2004).
To put that record in context, the Knights have won more games at long-haul away venues such as Auckland (eight), Townsville (seven), Canberra (six), Gold Coast (six) and Brisbane (five) than they have in Melbourne.
Often they have been on the wrong end of blowout scorelines south of the border, as was the case last year when the Storm handed out a 40-12 lesson.
But boosted by a host of off-season imports, Newcastle have won three of their first five games, including a 15-10 victory at home to Brisbane last week that Knights coach Nathan Brown labelled the best of his tenure.
Now Brown wants his players to take the same mindset into their clash with a Melbourne side who, after back-to-back defeats, are showing rare signs of vulnerability.
“It's certainly a place where plenty of sides have gone down there not expecting to do well because of their reputation, and we’ve got to go down there with some belief,” Brown said.
Newcastle co-captain Jamie Buhrer expressed similar sentiments, saying that while the Storm warranted respect, it was important not to be overawed.
“Playing down there in Melbourne, they’ve always been incredibly tough,” he said.
“But it’s important you go down there with belief, regardless of what’s happened [previously].
“At the end of the day, they are the premiers.
“It’s only round six. They’ve had a couple of losses and a bit of a shuffle in their roster.
“We’ve just got to go down there with belief, regardless of our circumstances, and have confidence that what we’ve done in the first five rounds is going to help us when we go down there. It’ll be tough, but we’re certainly excited about the challenge.”
Buhrer said Melbourne would be desperate to avoid a rare hat-trick of defeats.
Prior to their defeats by Cronulla and Wests Tigers, the last time Melbourne lost back-to-back games was a four-game streak midway through the 2015 season.
“That makes the task a little harder,” Buhrer said.
“They’re going to be an incredibly desperate outfit.
“With Cameron [Smith] and Billy [Slater] and a number of other stars in their team, they’re certainly going to be a handful, and that will make things hard for us.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re competing well and give ourselves every chance to be in there at the 80th minute and hopefully get the win.”
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy was confident his team would soon show their champion qualities.
“We’re not that far away,” Bellamy said.
“We’ve obviously lost three games, and that probably hasn’t happened for a fair while, losing three of our first five. But we’ve lost by two, then we lost by one and then by 10.
“Our defence has been doing a really good job, and there’s just a couple of adjustments we need to make our attack.”
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