The State of Origin cauldron may pale in comparison to the heat NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson is feeling ahead of his NRL debut for Newcastle.
But the ice cool playmaker reckons his priority will be ensuring the Knights’ record number of newcomers don’t get burnt at the sunny Gold Coast on Sunday.
Hodkinson was already under enough pressure after arriving as the embattled Knights’ big name signing.
However, the stakes were raised to arguably Origin-esque heights when new coach Nathan Brown asked co-captain Hodkinson to steer around Newcastle’s most inexperienced team in their season opener.
For the first time since their 1988 debut Newcastle will blood five debutants in Sunday’s round one clash with the Titans.
But former Bulldogs No.7 Hodkinson said he wasn’t feeling any nerves, just empathy for their many rookies.
“Us older blokes have got to get around them, keep them positive and keep their mind off the game leading into it,” Hodkinson said.
“You don’t want to overthink it so we will be helping them out there.”
Hodkinson took over the reins of a side that lost almost 1,200 NRL games’ worth of experience including their inspirational captain Kurt Gidley since collecting the 2015 wooden spoon.
Their ordinary display in their sole pre-season clash – a 34-28 loss to lowly Canberra – has hardly silenced critics arguing that their season opener against the Titans may provide a sneak preview to the 2016 wooden spooners.
But asked if it was hard to be confident, Hodkinson said: “I don’t think so.
“I think what we’ve done in the off season and the changes we’ve made, we’ll take a lot of confidence out of the pre-season we’ve had.
“Coming off that trial was pretty disappointing.
“We knew we had to fix things up since then.
“We know it may take time, but out there on the training paddock we are working well together and combinations are coming along.”
Hodkinson forms a dream halves pairing with former NSW playmaker Jarrod Mullen.
But their potency may depend on how quickly Newcastle’s five rookies – new fullback Jaelen Feeney, Pat Mata’utia, forwards Jacob and Daniel Saifiti and David Bhana – settle on debut.
Whatever the result, the Knights will make history on the Gold Coast.
Daniel and Jacob Saifiti will become the first twins to make their first grade debut together in rugby league’s 108-year history in Australia this weekend.