Knights have always had a place in the Storm

IT is hard to imagine two more contrasting rugby league cultures.
Nanjing Night Net

One is the big country town at the mouth of a coal-mining valley, which for decades has been a nursery of champions – where, in the glory days, players attracted so much hype and adulation that some felt they were living in a goldfish bowl.

The other is Australia’s second-largest city, where the 13-man game will probably always be an alien entity, no matter how many grand finals are won. Where players can wander the streets anonymously, knowing that they are small fish in a very large pond.

Yet there has been an affinity between Newcastle and Melbourne that dates back to 1998, the inaugural year of the NRL’s only Victorian franchise.

The Storm’s foundation squad included no fewer than seven players with Newcastle connections: former Knights Robbie Ross, Brett Kimmorley, Paul Marquet and Rodney Howe; and three others from the defunct Hunter Mariners in Scott Hill, Richard Swain and John Carlaw.

Ross, Kimmorley, Marquet and Howe were in the starting team 12 months later when the Storm scored a stunning grand final triumph against St George Illawarra.

In each of Melbourne’s three subsequent victories in title deciders (two of which were discredited because of salary cap breaches), there has been a Novocastrian influence.

Clint Newton made a mid-season transfer to Melbourne in 2007 and scored a try in their 34-8 win against Manly. His teammates included another ex-Knight, Anthony Quinn, who scored a double.

Likewise, Valentine-Eleebana junior Brett Finch returned to haunt Parramatta in the last game of 2009, which the Storm won 23-16.

And last year Knights discard Richie Fa’aoso described himself as ‘‘one of the luckiest blokes ever to play rugby league’’ after his sixth game with Melbourne was their 14-4 grand final win against Canterbury.

Scone product Todd Lowrie was also in that team.

Other ex-Knights to have made homes south of the border include Ben and Luke MacDougall and Adam Woolnough. This season, Junior Sa’u has played in four games for Melbourne, while former Newcastle under-20s prop Mitch Garbutt has made three appearances for the Storm.

And the traffic has not been one way. Among the big names who have travelled the reverse route are Kirk Reynoldson, Ben Cross and Jeremy Smith.

Then there are Marquet, Quinn and Robbie Rochow, who have all moved from the Knights to the Storm and back again.

Marquet holds the unique record of having been a foundation player, and premiership winner, with both clubs.

When the Knights host Melbourne in tomorrow’s blockbuster showdown at Hunter Stadium, he will be happily sitting on the fence.

‘‘I’m not real worried who wins, as long as it’s a good game,’’ Marquet told the Newcastle Herald.

‘‘They’re two great clubs and I’m an Old Boy of both, so I’m just happy to have been associated with them.’’

Marquet, the workhorse back-rower from Raymond Terrace, joked that Melburnians ‘‘couldn’t give a rat’s arse’’ about the Storm in his day.

‘‘But that was probably the best part about it, in some ways,’’ he recalled.

‘‘The boys don’t get pestered or harassed if they go out … plus it was a nice, tight-knit club because all the players were from out of town, so they had a lot of family functions and things.’’

Asked how he enjoyed life in Melbourne, Marquet replied: ‘‘I loved it.

‘‘Probably what helped me was there were so many Newcastle boys there.

‘‘There were seven of us there in that first year. I reckon that really helped us starting up a new club.’’

Paul Marquet.

Clint Newton.

Richie Fa’aoso.

Anthony Quinn.

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