Blue-collar duo driving Knights in NRL finals campaign

Phoenix Crossland says the city of Newcastle is built on underdogs like himself and Tyson Gamble, the no-frills NRL playmakers helping restore the Knights to their former glory.

Neither Crossland nor Gamble are household names.

They haven't played representative football and both were missing from Knights' starting side to begin the 2023 season.

But larrikin five-eighth Gamble and long-haired hooker Crossland shape as two of Newcastle's most crucial players in Sunday's elimination clash with Canberra, the first finals game of both players' careers.

"Usually at this time of year I'm on Mad Monday, so it's a good change," Gamble told AAP.

Gamble's journey to Newcastle's first home final since 2006 began after he gained an early release from his Brisbane contract late last year.

He landed in Newcastle, only to find State of Origin fullback Kalyn Ponga was keen on the five-eighth jersey Gamble had been hoping to make his own.

"It was a bit of a surprise, to be honest," Gamble said.

"It was always going to be a fight through pre-season but it's kind of hard to beat Kalyn Ponga to a jersey."

But when coach Adam O'Brien called the five-eighth experiment off and switched Ponga back to fullback mid-season, Gamble got his chance.

The 27-year-old finished the regular season with 22 appearances - almost as many as he had tallied in his whole career before 2023 - and 13 try assists. 

To put that in perspective, superstar Melbourne five-eighth Cam Munster has 14 try assists for the year.

For his part, Crossland was parachuted into hooker, a position he had never played at NRL level, when captain Jayden Brailey suffered a season-ending knee injury in April. 

Ten of Newcastle's 14 wins have come with Crossland as the starting hooker.

"It's been really good to get an opportunity, I've been loving it," Crossland told AAP.

The last time the Knights went on a winning streak as long as the current nine-game run, Danny Buderus wore the hooker jersey and Andrew Johns played in the halves.

Gamble is the first to admit neither he nor Crossland come close to the two Knights legends. But that's just what he hopes everyone is thinking.

"My whole life I've been an underdog," Gamble said.

"Phoenix and I have spoken about it a bit. I don't think anyone really expected us to be the starting nine or six, or going as well as we have. 

"It's just a mindset that we both have, we want to prove people wrong. We've done that so far but the job's not done. 

"We get to do it again, hopefully in the finals - knock the Raiders off this week and keep progressing and hopefully play in a grand final."

Crossland and Gamble, the two anonymous blokes plucked from the fringes of the first-grade side, are fast becoming the easiest heroes for their city to get behind.

"It's probably something Newcastle's built on, being the underdogs, being blue-collar," Crossland said.

"We've got the mines and everyone walking here probably has some story where they've had to work really hard to get where they are. 

"It's not something you talk about every day around here, how tough you've got to be or how hard you've got to work, but it's the DNA when you live here."

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