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It’s easily the biggest rivalry the nib Newcastle Knights have.

But how did it begin?

It turns out, it goes way back to a trial game, just a few weeks before the Knights officially entered the NSWRL.



It was the Knights first game for a competitive trophy, The Herald Challenge Cup, which took place just a few weeks prior to the 1988 Winfield Cup season. The opposition: 1987 Premiers Manly.

The Sea Eagles side included massive names such as Paul Vautin, Geoff Toovey, Dale Shearer, Des Hasler, Noel Cleal, Cliff Lyons and Michael O’Connor. Newcastle, meanwhile, featured only seven players with first grade experience.

The Knights were also coming off the back of a 32-0 trial loss to Cronulla, not to mention the star-studded Manly side would obviously be a lift in class.

The town had every reason to be concerned about what could play out. It seemed a total mismatch, with many predicting a cricket score at the International Sports Centre (now McDonald Jones Stadium).

Despite this, Alan McMahon oozed confidence.

“Don’t worry about their reputations,” he told the players according to the book Hard Yards.

“Let’s get up in their faces, tackle hard and give them no room to move, and see how they like it.”

The events that followed shocked even the expert pundits.

Firstly, over 21,460 people had packed into the ground. Unheard of for a trial match at the time.

Secondly, the Knights proved to be no roll-over.

Marc Glanville, who was still questioning whether he made the right call joining the club, was completely won over by the performance.

"I was still a bit unsure whether or not I’d made the right decision, because I just wasn’t sure how we’d go," Glanville told the Our Town Our Team podcast.

"But when we played Manly in that Herald Challenge Cup, they’d won in '87 and had some great names in there, and we went out to play them and we gave it to them.

"After that I thought yep, I’ve made the right decision."

The hefty crowd were treated to a red and blue masterclass, with McMahon’s battlers grinding out a brutal 24-12 win, delighting the local fans, many of whom were watching the Knights for the first time.

The Knights may’ve taken the Herald Challenge Cup, but the true gravity of the result wasn’t lost on the Knights inaugural Head Coach.

“Today’s match was a trial, a very important trial … not only for our football respectability,” McMahon said after the game.

“We had to have early credibility with the public, and I feel we went some way towards that.”

The Knights would of course go on to have many great battles with the Sea Eagles, however this one, the first, is arguably, one of the most significant.

The two sides grappled with each other as the Knights became a top-of-the-table force, led by the likes of the Johns brothers.

They denied the Knights a maiden grand final appearance with a dour 12-4 win, in a game dominated by feuding props Paul 'Chief' Harragon and Mark 'Spud' Carroll.

It sparked a fire inside the belly of coach Mal Reilly, who was determined to get revenge against the Club he featured for as a player.

Just two years later, they had it.

The '97 Grand Final will forever go down as one of the best, with the Harragon-led Knights winning via a miracle comeback right on full-time.

"Mal told Chief that nobody ever gets sent off in a grand final," Glanville said.

"In the first 10-15 minutes of that game, Chief took it upon himself to rip into the Manly side."

While Manly we're left devastated, one man was left feeling even more let down, according to Darren Albert, the man who scored the final try.

"I think Hughsey (Mark Hughes) often says he’s dirty he (Johns) didn’t pass it to him down the sideline," Albert said.

"I’m pretty happy it went the way it did."

The Sea Eagles were hurting, with the premiership seemingly snatched from their grasp by their arch-rivals.

Fast forward almost ten seasons, the maroon-and-white side we're still aiming for revenge. They we're off to a great start, poaching enforcer and Knights fan-favourite Ben Kennedy.

Late in the 2006 season, the two sides duked it out once more, with a spot in the top four potentially on the line.

A refereeing howler left 25,000 fans, and Andrew Johns, absolutely ropable as Manly stole a 16-14 victory. Johns copped a two-match ban for his undignified spray of the match officials after the decision.

"With my standing in the game, it's been a big talking point, and I'm so remorseful for what's happened," Johns said post-game.

Incredibly, the two sides would meet again just three weeks later, with both the Club and Johns having a point to prove.

It was another epic, with the Knights turning around an 18-6 second half deficit to win 25-18. The name on everyones lips that night: Jarrod Mullen.

The young pivot kicked a clutch field goal in the dying stages, as well as making a crucial line break which led to the final try.

So, it seemed the Knights would have the last laugh. However, the win marked the end of an era for the Club, with a tough decade to follow.

Come 2018, the Knights had made the finals just three times since '06. They were also coming off three-straight wooden spoons.

Yet nearly 24,000 people had piled into McDonald Jones Stadium on a warm Friday Night in round one. It was the debut Knights game for both marquee signing Mitchell Pearce and a young fullback named Kalyn Ponga.

The opposition: You guessed it, Manly.

The game was a true nail biter, and in classic Newcastle-Manly fashion, went right to the wire.

With the scores locked at 16-all deep into golden point, Pearce stepped up with a memorable field goal which sent the stadium into raptures.

"That Newcastle chant, I don't think I'll get over that, it'll be ringing in my ears all night," Ponga said post-match.

"It was pretty over-whelming."

With the 2020 season on the horizon, the Sea-Eagles have the edge in the overall wins, claiming 33 victories to the Knights 19.

There's no doubt the Knights will be out to claw back ground in whats sure to be another two epic contests in 2020.