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John Laut is surrounded by rugby league history.

Walking through his waterside home on Lake Macquarie, Laut proudly displays his collection of memorabilia honouring the Newcastle Knights trial match against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles back in 1988.  

The game, which kicked off the '88 season, took on huge significance because it was the first time the Knights took the field in the Sydney-based competition as a collective unit.

Laut was the Foundation Director and first grade team manager that day when the men in red and blue shocked the league world with 24-12 victory over a star-studded Sea Eagles side coming off a premiership.   

Led by internationals like Paul Vautin, Noel Cleal, Des Hasler and Dale Shearer, Manly were supposed to wipe the floor with a Knights side made up of rookies, reserve graders and the odd Kiwi international.  

Yet as Laut fondly recalls, Newcastle put on a strong show of power and passion to send the silvertails from Sydney's Northern Beaches packing in front of more than 21,000 people on a hot February afternoon.

In the lead-up to tonight's match against Manly at Brookvale Oval, we take a look back at the game that sparked one of league's greatest rivalries between the Knights and the Sea Eagles.  

For Laut it's match he'll never forget, especially when he still has one of the original match balls from that trial game sitting on his dining room table.

It has faded over the years, but it’s historical significance remains the same. 

"Yeah this football was one of the perks of being football manager," grins Laut, who is president of the Old Boys Club and works from home in the gaming industry. 

"If you look closely you can still see the word 'Knights' written on the back, it was a great day."

Laut has many great memories of that fateful day February day, but admits the pre-match speech from coach Allan McMahon was a special moment.

"I recall Allan McMahon saying to the boys prior to going on the park, ‘this is test’," he says.

"And they all looked around the dressing shed thinking to themselves, well it’s not really a test.

"But what Allan meant was this was a test of your creditability.

"This a time to show pride in yourself, the team and the town.

"And that’s what happened."

On the back of McMahon's motivational words, the Knights were primed for battle against a strong Manly side coached by Bob Fulton.

Laut remembers the team running onto the field focused and determined as ever to make a statement on the game's top stage.

"When the players took the field for the first time in front of that crowd, it was organised by McMahon for them to go over to the scoreboard side and salute the crowd," he adds.

"Well the crowd just went berserk.

"Then they came back to the grandstand side and did exactly the same thing.

"It was just phenomenal.

"I’m sure that had a big bearing in lifting the intensity and the spirit of those players and from then on it was game on.

"They won the game and they did a lap of honour and once again the crowd just rose to their feet and they all stayed. 

“You would have thought we’d just won the grand final.”

Veteran forward Clint Newton was also at that first trial against Manly as a passionate seven-year-old.

Newton has no doubts the match paved the way for aspiring players like himself to grow up dreaming of taking on the Sea Eagles.        

“I just remember our family was that pumped to finally support our team that was in our town," Newton recalls. 

“I know my father was very passionate about that. 

“He was a avid Parramatta supporter all his life, but the moment we had our own team all that got thrown to the side and we were Knights fans.

“We were excited about the game. 

"I remember being in full Knights kit and was that proud to be there.

“Obviously it meant more to us than it did Manly because our boys got told this was what it was all about.”

Newcastle has beaten Manly on plenty of occasions since that trial in 1988, but they’ve only recorded two wins against the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval.

The most recent of those victories came in Round 17 of the 2006 season, a 26-12 victory led by the brilliance of star Andrew Johns.

Current NYC team manager Craig Smith played in the front-row that day and fondly remembers the team significantly lifting their intensity prior to the match.  

“The thing that changed in the lead-up to that game was that everybody got serious all of a sudden and it was all about footy," Smith recalls.

“I was thinking, ‘what’s going on here’. We were joking around last week, but this week from Monday on it was serious.

“And it was because we were coming up against Manly at Brookvale.

It was always going to be tough.

“I guess you could always appreciate that from the days when Chief and Mark Carroll set standards.

“So regardless of the outcome, it was always going to be a battle.”

It’s a battle that will resume again at Brookvale Oval tonight.