In 1988, a team representing the Newcastle Knights first ran out onto the playing field. In terms of natural talent and financial resources the team was not well endowed. However in terms of courage and commitment the same team was without peer.
In those formative years, while the Club's win/loss record remained less than overwhelming, a fearful reputation was simultaneously being forged by the red and blues, a reputation which the Club has carried as a badge of honour ever since.
It’s that sense of toughness and resilience that remains in the fabric of the Newcastle Knights and is a common thread when the Club’s original players reflect on the early days of the Knights.
Under the leadership of the respected head coach, Alan McMahon, the Knights begun to lay the foundations of a legacy that was far from anticipated at the time.
Michael ‘Mick’ Reid was 20-years-old when he joined the Club from the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
“It was the opportunity to get a start in first grade because I was behind a hooker at the Bulldogs,” Reid said.
“Being young and motivated, I wanted to get their as soon as possible.
“When they offered me the role up here, I took it.
“My first game was like any game, you get nervous.
“But it was something different and nothing that I’d ever felt before.
“We were ambitious and wanted to do our best week in week out and didn’t want to let anyone down, especially at a new Club.
“It was a mindset that we started from the get go.
"We wanted to be the player that everyone wanted to play with to set a standard for ourselves and set a benchmark for not only ourselves but these to come.
“We wanted to be tough, ruthless and win at all cost.
“That was right across the board and even the staff was on board.
“We had to do what it took to try and win. We were taught to train hard and play harder."
Reid speaks of the unrelelenting attitude of the first coach McMahon and the sometimes torturous training tests the players were put through.
But it was his ability to push players to the limit and his insistent search for the toughest behaviour in his players that established the Club’s earliest values.
For more than a decade, Reid has been a member of the Knights' training staff.
He believes the standards set in those formative years are still applied.
“I’m still passionate about the Club in what I do now, as most people can tell when either they get trained by me or I give the pre-game match speak,” he said.
More than 25 years after that first team broke out into the competition, the players are set to return to home turf for a reunion before the Knights' Round 1 match on Saturday March 7.
Reid says the Old Boys will be watching on with interest.
"They will be watching their number to see how they perform and it’s always a way that when any Old Boy turns up, they are always watching their jumper," he added.
"The pride and ownership that you have in that jumper is something that you never forget.
"I guess they are just seeing if the new players are carrying the same mantle that we did."
Like Reid, Glen Miller was attracted to the Knights after trying for a break at another Club, this time Penrith.
"Everyone that turned up here were all kind of beginning their first grade career,” Miller said.
“Everyone was going to try because that was our chance.
"Many played reserve grade in other clubs, here we got a starting spot, which everyone seemed to like.
“Alan McMahon just wanted some one that was hard. Everyone had to be hard. There was no space for anyone that wasn’t going to have a go.
“You want to play with some one who was going to have a go, and everyone did.
“With Alan McMahon, if they didn’t have a go, they weren’t there.
“He built that attitude in the first couple of years."
Despite more than two decades passing since that original team forged it’s way in the NRL, the men of the early era are still as just connected to the Club today as ever.
In celebrations like the annual Old Boys Day, the last home game of the regular season, players from past and present maintain strong bonds and connections through the common ground of the Club they love.
Scott Carter's path to the Knights was more direct than some of his teammates.
He grew up in Denman in the upper Hunter where he captain coached Denman’s first grade side until he was spotted by the Knights’ talent scouts and offered a contract at the age of 18.
“Alan McMahon brought a lot of young players and didn’t go for a hell of a lot experience,” Carter said.
“He called it a lot of tomorrows, which basically meant people with futures in front of them.
“Our theme back then was to play, hard, play tough and play for 80 minutes.
“We wanted to win but it was about making sure every side knew that they were playing Newcastle.
“We were very much the under dogs and were from day one.
“In the four years I was there, we had a remarkable experience and improved remarkably."
Carter explains the life of the early first grade competition far from resembles the experience of the present day playing squad.
For instance, the men would hold down fulltime jobs while maintaining their place in the NRL team.
“We all worked back then and didn’t have the luxury of what they have today," he said.
“A lot of blokes sacrificed a lot of things.
“It was about playing footy and wasn’t about the money. It was about getting in there, having a go and representing at the highest level at the time.”
What sticks with Carter the most from this treasured period in his life is the way the Hunter embraced its new team.
“The support we got from the community was absolutely unbelievable,” Carter reflected.
“The people around the Hunter were extraordinary."
Carter speaks of the awe-inspiring experience of playing on home turf at the then International Sports Centre, now Hunter Stadium, in front of crowds in excess of 20,000.
“We loved it, and because we were kids, we didn’t know any better,” he said.
“We came from playing at ovals with only 100 or 200 people maximum.
"All of a sudden we had that many people watching us, it was an experience.
"We’ve been a community based team and haven't necessarily been about the money.
"It’s been about the town and representing the town and doing the best for yourself. You get those accolades as you go along.
"The Knights will always be a part of Newcastle and its fabric.
"People speak about how the Knights are part of the fabric of Newcastle, but it also works the other way.
"The community is the fabric of the club as well.
"It’s a unique place."
Carter said many players who connected with what the foundations of how the Club was built, often reside locally and start families.
He goes on to list a raft of ex-players who have stayed in Newcastle and established successful lives in the Hunter post-football.
“What we are today comes from what we learned then and the discipline that was drummed into us," he said.
The achievements of those early days have stuck with Carter and go beyond what unfolded on the football field in those seminal years.
“Coming from a country town with a few hundred people, to doing what I did, I’m proud of it and it was awesome.”
The reunion of the Club’s team from the maiden year of 1988 on Saturday’s Round 1 match, 27 years almost to the day since the first match, will hold wide-stretching significance and meaning.
For the current players, it’s about reflecting on their forbearers and those who have built the institution that stands today.
For the early players it’s a chance to rekindle old friendship and savor the unique and enduring contribution they gave to their Club and their town.
Most of all it’s about recognising and connecting with the credos and values that those who donned the red and blue jumper brought to life, that continue to inspire the players of today and tomorrow.
Newcastle Knights' team of 1988
Glen Frendo joined the Knights from Canterbury.
Graham Foster joined the club from Manly.
Rod Whitaker played local league with Cessnock and played on the wing.
Troy Clarke played on the wing after joining from Penrith.
Gavin Hanrahan joined the club from Balmain and played in the centres.
Glenn Miller played with Penrith prior to joining the Knights and was a centre.
Jeff Doyle joined from Redcliffe, Queensland.
Darren Meredith a former Maitland junior joined the club from Canterbury.
Robbie Tew joined the club from Redcliffe and played five-eighth.
Tea Roparti was a New Zealand international and played five eighth.
Robbie McCormack was an Inverell junior who joined from Muswellbrook.
Steve Walters a local Lakes United player prior to joining the Knights and played half back.
Steve Fulmer joined the club from the Mudgee Dragons and played half back.
Darren Forward joined the Knights from local rugby union and played half back.
Marc Glanville was a former St George player prior to joining the Knights and was a lock.
Mick Reid joined from Canterbury.
Greg Hayward joined the Knights from Lakes United.
John Crooks joined the club after playing with South Newcastle.
David Boyd who joined the Knights via Canterbury and was in the second row.
Tony Butterfield joined the club from Penrith and went on to represent NSW.
Michael McKiernan was another former Lakes United player prior to joining the Knights.
Scott Seamer was a local product who joined the Knights from the Illawarra Steelers.
David Thorn joined the club from Parramatta and formed the Knights' pack.
Peter Malcom joined from Inverell.
George Mann was a former New Zealand international prior to joining the club.
Brett Shore, a Taree junior joined the Knights from Canterbury.
Adrian Bubb joined the Knights after playing local rugby union.
Tony Townsend was a Dungog junior who joined Newcastle from St.George.
Scott Carter played hooker and joined the Knights from Denman
Sam Stewart was a New Zealand international and captained the inaugrual team.
Alan Bell was assistant coach.