HE'S been arguably their harshest critic, and if the Newcastle Knights hope to earn any belated, begrudging respect from Cronulla warhorse Paul Gallen, it's a case of now or never.
Gallen, who has announced this will be his last season in the NRL, will play against the Knights for the 28th time in his illustrious career in Friday's season opener at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Unless the two teams cross paths in the play-offs, it will be Newcastle's last chance to exact a small measure of retribution after being dominated by the Sharks in recent seasons.
Cronulla have beaten Newcastle in eight consecutive NRL games dating back to 2015, as well as a 30-6 win in the trial at Maitland nine days ago. And Gallen has made little attempt in that time to sugar coat his opinion of the struggling Knights.
In particular, when Mitchell Pearce chose to join the Knights instead of the Sharks after leaving the Roosters in late 2017, Gallen declared the halfback "might live to regret" his decision because "Newcastle are two or three years away from being a consistent top eight side".
"As for winning competitions, well, I just can't see that happening for a long, long time," he added.
It continued a recurring theme. In 2016, after Cronulla slaughtered the hapless Knights 62-0, Gallen observed with brutal honesty: "The side we played against today were very inexperienced and there wouldn't be too many players who played for Newcastle today who would make any other first-grade side, really."
Five members of the round-one squad Knights coach Nathan Brown is expected to name on Tuesday - Daniel Saifiti, Sione Matautia, Danny Levi, Mitch Barnett and Lachlan Fitzgibbon - are yet to beat Cronulla in their top-grade careers.
Levi admitted he had been "touched up by Cronulla, more often than not" but was confident of reversing the trend on Friday.
"They're definitely a quality team, but I think we are now, too," he said.
"You look at the players we've signed, I think we can match their quality. I know I'm sick of losing to them and beating them would be a good way to start our season."
Asked about Gallen, Levi replied: "He's had plenty to say about our team, so it would definitely be nice to put him on the other side of the scoreboard this time."
Mata'utia said he preferred to push memories of the multiple thrashings Cronulla have handed out firmly to the back of his mind.
"You learn from those games, but then you put them behind you," he said.
"I vaguely remember some of them.
"Obviously Cronulla are a tough team. They've been playing together for hundreds of years and their roster hasn't really changed.
"They've got experience up front, and guys who can do a bit of magic out wide, so they're nearly the perfect team, but on any given day, anyone can be beaten."
Mata'utia described Gallen as "an outstanding participant of our game, and a great leader for our state".
"They'll be wanting to get him a win in his last game in Newcastle, and we obviously want to send him out a loser," he said. "So it's going to be a great challenge for us."
Barnett had a running battle with Gallen when they first clashed, in 2016, then copped a post-match back-hander when the veteran told the media: “I don’t even know his name, that’s how much I care.’’
At the time, Barnett was a rookie appearing in his seventh NRL game. He now has 56 games to his name and is a key member of Newcastle's pack.
"Cronulla have touched us up a couple of times, and they've had a couple of narrow wins against us," he said.
"I'd love to be in a winning side against them.
"They're aggressive and and they try to dominate you.
"I try not to take a backward step against anybody, and you need that controlled aggression. I was probably a bit reckless back when I first started out."