Jake Clifford will enjoy better days as a Knight.
A 40-4 loss in front of his new home crowd on Old Boys’ Day was not exactly the outcome he had envisaged for his Newcastle debut, but Clifford could see some light among the gloom.
The Cairns-born Tully Tigers junior was given a crash course in Knights history in the build-up to Sunday's clash with Parramatta.
The 23-year-old former North Queensland halfback was meeting some of the club’s most celebrated players in the hours before kick-off while still learning some of his new teammates’ names.
"It was pretty special to get to debut on Old Boys’ Day," Clifford told NRL.com.
"It’s a very historic club here, and those players that won the premiership back in 2001 and before that [in 1997] have really set the tone and culture for this team and for the club, and we want to get back to those winning ways.
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"The week was very fast, getting here last Sunday and meeting all the boys and trying to build combinations during the week …
"I’ve got most of their names down pat but under fatigue it’s a different story and you’re just telling people to get to different spots, but all in all, the boys have been very welcoming.
"I feel like I’ve been here all year, the way they’ve accepted me in, and I’m very grateful for that.
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"This ain’t the end for us, and we’ve got a long road ahead to push for a finals spot, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in this group and it’s on to next week now."
Clifford’s two-year contract with the Knights was not due to start until next season but the Cowboys gave the green light for a mid-year transfer late last month, helping Newcastle overcome the loss of senior playmakers Mitchell Pearce (torn pectoral muscle) and Blake Green (retirement).
His former Cowboys teammate Kalyn Ponga presented him with his first Knights jersey last week, then he joined Kurt Mann in the halves against Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown on Sunday.
"It was awesome to receive my jersey from KP," Clifford said.
"I grew up playing footy alongside him and against him, and for him to present me that was pretty cool, and I’ll always remember that."
The Knights were on the back foot for most of the game against the Eels and paid a heavy penalty for too many handling mistakes and missed or ineffective tackles.
Clifford tested the Eels’ back three with several spiralling bombs and grubber kicks but was hard on himself for a kick out on the full and play-the-ball error that led to Parramatta tries.
"We just didn’t execute and too many individual errors hurt us," he said.
"Parramatta are a very good team but the areas where we hurt ourselves had nothing to do with talent. It was just simple concentration errors, and I had a few myself – from a play-the-ball and kicking out on the full – but it’s an easy fix.
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"Leading up to the game, we were very confident in what we could do but we just didn’t execute it and we shot ourselves in the foot pretty much with our errors."
Knights coach Adam O’Brien expects Clifford to be more settled in Newcastle’s next game against South Sydney at Stadium Australia next Saturday.
"It was always going to be hard for Jake to come into a key position after one-and-a-half training runs – the captain’s run, you don’t get a lot done – but he’s going to be better for the run," O’Brien said after the game.
"There would be some guys out there that he’d probably forget their names during that 80 minutes under pressure."
Clifford was one of three Newcastle debutants against Parramatta and O’Brien thought Jack Johns and Mat Croker also "held their gloves up".
"But it wasn’t an easy game to make your debut in, when you don’t have the ball and you’re not defending well, so I felt a bit for them, but they’ve got a whole future in front of those guys," he said.
"That won’t be the last game of footy that those guys play."
O’Brien hopes to welcome back Pearce, among others, for the game against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium on June 19.
Clifford is looking forward to combining with Pearce, Ponga and other sidelined Knights stars but, until then, he expects more from himself and his new teammates every time they take the field.
"I’m excited about the fellas coming back from injury and Origin and whatnot, and I can’t wait to get to play alongside them," Clifford said.
"But in saying that, if we’ve got players out, we need players to fill in and do a job as well.
"We can’t just rely on those boys to get the job done. It’s a team sport and everyone in the top 30, when they’re required to do a job, we expect them to do it."