The last time the Newcastle Knights participated in finals footy, a Mitchell Pearce-led Roosters side knocked them out of a Grand Final qualifier. A week later, they won the competition.
Since that time, the Knights only have three wooden spoons to show for what has been the darkest period in the club’s proud history.
As the community club of the NRL, the Knights have some of the most loyal fans in the league that continually fill McDonald Jones Stadium on a weekly basis, irrespective of their position on the ladder.
The Knights' significant recruitment drive for 2018 was recently topped off with the signature of Pearce, who was drawn to the club by the community so hungry for success.
“I went into Coles last night and there [were] a few Knights fans around there and [we had] some footy chats,” Pearce said, donning the Knights colours for the first time.
“I haven’t spent too much time in Newcastle but from afar, I’ve always admired how much the town gets behind its team.
“I want to come into pre-season, enjoy every day and settle into the community; it’s a different culture to what I’m used to in Sydney, it’s a mad footy town and that’s one of the big reasons I want to be here.
“Even last year they were getting a full house pretty much all year - it’s a big Rugby League town. I want to bring success to the town.”
Pearce and the Roosters knocking out Newcastle in the 2013 Preliminary Final seems like a lifetime ago, when Wayne Bennett was still in charge in the Hunter.
It was the final game for club legend Danny Buderus, who was an influence in dramatically turning the tables and getting Pearce to make the move to Newcastle.
While the influence of Buderus, the Johns brothers and other Knights legends cannot be understated, the other major reason for Pearce's signature was being a part of the Newcastle rebuild with some of the best young talent in the game.
“A big thing for me was being a part of what the Knights are building,” Pearce said.
“That was the real appeal of coming here. It’s a clean slate, the club’s building and got a lot of exciting players, some of the best young players in the game with Connor [Watson] and [Kalyn] Ponga.
“In the last month I’ve spoken to a lot of people I respect that are close to me, that want the best for you, but at the end of the day it came back to me. I had a good feeling about Newcastle.
“I’ve got high hopes for this season, I really believe that we can push a lot of teams this year; the sky is the limit with this group.”
Among that group of young players is Brock Lamb, who broke out last year as a rising star punching above his weight in terms of responsibility for a 20-year-old.
He shouldered that responsibility incredibly well, but his future at the club is uncertain with the addition of Pearce and Watson, as well as current halfback Trent Hodkinson.
In a situation that seems identical to Cronk wanting Pearce to stay at the Roosters, the latter hopes to play alongside Lamb in Knights colours next year.
“I’d love Brock to stay, before I came here I was a big fan of the way he played,” Pearce said.
“For a 20-year-old the way he played in a team that was down the bottom of the ladder was a real standout.
“He’s got a massive future and is a local junior so I’d love to form some sort of combination there.”
Before reaching a decision, Pearce sensed something special was brewing at the Knights after his first visit to the club, even calling his father – Balmain legend Wayne Pearce – to tell him so.
That special feeling continued this morning for Pearce, who met the squad and trained for the first time in Knights colours.
“The first thing I noticed coming to training today, there’s a mad buzz around, to be honest, it was a similar feeling that I had at the Roosters,” Pearce said.
“There’s a real family feeling here and a real buzz with the boys that just enjoy their footy, there’s no fear and it’s a recipe for success.
“There’s something special, the club’s building to a really good place, I see myself at a point [in] my career where I’d like to take that leadership role.
“I’m just looking forward to earning the trust of the boys over the next two or three weeks in the pre-season and getting amongst it.”