It has been anything but a happy hunting ground for him but Newcastle prop Herman Ese’ese cherishes every chance he gets to play at Mt Smart Stadium.
The Auckland-born Kiwi international is none from three in his home town but has another opportunity to open his account when the Knights tackle the Warriors there on Sunday.
Ese’ese, who has been named on the bench, started in Newcastle’s 20-4 loss to the Warriors at Mt Smart last August, and twice tasted defeat there with Brisbane in 2017 (28-10) and 2016 (36-18).
A Mangere East Hawks junior who was once part of the Warriors’ development system, Ese’ese said he had nothing to prove against them. He just feels an overwhelming sense of personal and national pride and wants to play well in front of family and friends.
“Absolutely. I’ve still got a lot of family there, and I’ll never forget my roots and where I came from, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” Ese’ese told NRL.com.
“It’s more about my own performance. I just try to get better every week and I want to be one of the top forwards in the game in the coming years and I’m working towards that.
“I’m not so much worried about playing well against the Warriors or anything like that, I just try to make my family proud and try to better myself.”
Ese’ese was one of the Knights’ most consistent performers last season, missing just one game in his first year at the club.
But the arrival of David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and James Gavet, and some indifferent trial form, meant the former Bronco began the year in Newcastle’s Canterbury Cup NSW team.
He was recalled against Penrith in round two and has come off the bench in their past two games against Gold Coast and Parramatta, having worked on some defensive issues coach Nathan Brown highlighted during the pre-season.
“Obviously missing out on the season-opener was pretty disappointing. It’s a goal for me to play first grade week-in, week-out, but I took that on board as a positive and just worked hard on things I needed to work on and try and get myself back in the team,” he said.
Contracted to the Knights until the end of 2020, he has been linked to other clubs in recent weeks but said he was not looking elsewhere and wants to regain his starting spot in the Newcastle pack.
“Rumours are rumours. I just let my manager deal with any clubs that might approach him, and I’m just worrying about my job here first and foremost,” he said.
“I’m still contracted to the Knights so I’m putting all my hard work and energy into this club.
“A starting spot is something I’m trying to aim for and trying to win back, and it all starts with doing my job well from the bench first and providing that energy and impact that the boys need.”
Apart from chasing his NRL goals, Ese’ese aspires to represent New Zealand on the international stage, as he did against England in the one-off Test in Denver last year.
Though he enjoyed that experience, and the chance to promote the game on the American frontier, it means the world to him to represent the Kiwis, no matter where in the world that happens to be.
“’Madge’ (Kiwis coach Michael Maguire) knows I’m always honoured and privileged to pull on a black jersey. That’s always been a dream of mine since watching my uncle, Ali Lauit’iti, playing back in the day,” he said.
“I’m always passionate about where I’m from. New Zealand is my country of birth and my home, so it’s always an honour to pull on the black jersey and run out for them … It was a dream come true.”
Ese’ese said Lauit’iti, the skilful former Warriors, Leeds and Wakefield Trinity second-rower, has inspired him from near and far throughout his career.
“When I started playing for Mangere East, he came from there too, and I remember playing under-11s, he used to come and watch a few games,” he recalled.
“As the years went on, he went to the UK for a long stint, so he didn’t get to watch all my footy growing up but he still had an impact on my career as someone who’s been there, done that, and I’ve always looked up to him.
“If I need any help with anything, I can call or message him, so it’s good to have someone like that as a role model in my family.”