THE Newcastle Knights' NRL squad emerged at the south-eastern corner of McDonald Jones Stadium during half-time in NSW Cup, having apparently made the short stroll from their new Centre of Excellence.
Players, many of whom were wearing headphones, and staff made their way diagonally across the pitch to their dressing room.
If there was a smile on a face amongst them, I must have missed it.
Melbourne Storm's players sauntered onto the field in dribs and drabs once the reserve-grade fixture had finished.
They were a study in contrast. The body language was relaxed and oozing confidence. Players were laughing and clowning around, in high spirits.
Harry Grant and Ryan Papenhuyzen, wearing a club-issue bucket hat, stood 10 metres apart and kicked a ball to and fro, until Grant "nutmegged" the dynamic No.1 and raised both arms to celebrate victory.
Kick-off was still an hour away, but this game was already as good as won.
Two teams, two vastly different mindsets.
One group of players getting ready to have some fun on their favourite day of the week. Their opponents understandably nervous and possibly dreading what lay ahead of them.
Realistically, what chance did the Knights have last Sunday?
Injury-riddled and coming off a five-game losing streak - including a 39-2 drubbing from Parramatta a week earlier - they were at a low ebb. Melbourne, conversely, were flying high after a club-record 70-10 slaughter of the Warriors and clearly in the mood for another scoring spree.
The writing was on the wall long before Knights five-eighth Jake Clifford kicked out on the full to start the game, gifting the visitors the ball in ideal attacking position, which allowed them to post two tries before Newcastle had even had a set in possession.
Eighty minutes later, the scoreboard read 50-2 in Melbourne's favour and, adding to the ignominy, Newcastle had slipped to last rung on the competition ladder, because of the NRL's worst for-and-against differential.
There were only two positives to emerge for long-suffering Knights fans.
First, their team don't play Melbourne again this season, unless, by some miraculous turn of events, they renew acquaintances in the play-offs.
Second, every loss brings you closer to your next win, or so the theory goes.
How much longer Newcastle have to wait for a breakthrough victory against the Storm, however, is anyone's guess.
The Storm have now beaten Newcastle in 11 games in a row, scoring 374 points to 116, in a streak dating back to 2016.
That's 34-11, on average.
The past two clashes between the two sides, 48-4 last season and 50-2 last week, would suggest the gulf is widening.
So much for the theory that Melbourne, once all-time greats Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk had retired, would be reduced to mere mortals and there would be a shift in the balance of power.
Somehow, after the rise and rise of Papenhuyzen, Grant, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes, they have evolved as a unit and added even greater firepower to their famously formidable defence.
A core group of Newcastle's players have never known anything except defeat when they play the Storm. Jacob Saifiti has lost all eight games against them. His twin sibling Daniel, Kalyn Ponga, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Mitch Barnett have been beaten seven times, Enari Tuala on six occasions.
It reminds me in many ways of when Australia used to play cricket against the West Indies in the 1980s.
The Aussies were a decent team against most opposition, but as soon as the first bouncers from Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner started whizzing past their earholes, heroes were suddenly few and far between.
The point I'm trying to highlight here is the Catch 22 situation the Knights are facing.
The catalyst for them to beat Melbourne and exorcise these demons once and for all is surely collective self-belief. But how do they truly believe they can win, when every attempt seems to end in failure?
And how can aspire to anything more than making up the numbers until they are capable of beating Melbourne?
That last question, incidentally, would appear a moot point, given their current position on the points table. Their immediate priority has to be simply to climb out of the competition cellar and, slowly but surely, start rebuilding confidence and credibility.
In saying that, and in spite of their past six results, I still don't think it's out of the question that the Knights can feature in this season's play-offs.
That might sound crazy, and even crazier if - as most are predicting - they suffer a seventh consecutive defeat when they take on North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday night.
After that, however, their draw offers a faint glimmer of hope. The Knights still have to play Canterbury, Canberra, Gold Coast and Brisbane twice apiece. They also face Wests Tigers and the Warriors, and most of their tougher games - on paper, at least - are at home.
It's still a tall order, obviously.
But if they believe in themselves, anything is possible. Maybe, one day, even beating Melbourne.
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