Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 02:09 PM

A Rough Start For The Knights

The Daly Cherry-Evans field goal at Brookvale oval on Monday night not only sunk the hearts of all Knights fans, it also reiterated the heartbreak the Knights have suffered in 2014. September last year they were playing the premiers, Sydney Roosters, for a spot in the 2013 grand final. Now they sit 15th with just two wins. As rugby league supporters we tend not to so much as blink an eye at the demise of opposition clubs, but in this case I find it very hard not to feel for them as they battle off field dramas and constant rumours of the instability of their club

The horrid start to the 2014 season started way back in February in Auckland. The Knights suffered a semi-final defeat at the hands of the Broncos and unfortunately it wasn’t just the game they lost that day. Their X-factor Jarrod Mullen succumbed to a hamstring injury that would keep him sidelined for the first six rounds. The loss of Mullen was huge for the Knights along with the already-injured Kurt Gidley; you got the sense the year would not be easy, even with master coach Wayne Bennett’s decision to sign former Raiders and Hull KR captain Michael Dobson and pair him up with rising star Tyrone Roberts in the halves.

A heavy defeat in round one to a new-look Penrith side wasn’t the start they desired. A narrow loss to Canberra at home in round two saw the Knights on the verge of the most feared road trip in the NRL, Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park. Although the Knights have a good record against the Storm, it’s never an easy feat travelling to play the big three in purple. Only seconds out from half time the Knights trailed Melbourne 18-8, yet it was by no means a walk in the park. Newcastle were sticking it to Melbourne in typically gutsy Knights’ fashion – then the incident that would change the Knights forever. A seamlessly straightforward hit up from Alex MacKinnon saw him lifted dangerously in the tackle and land awkwardly on his neck, unfortunately leaving him lying lifelessly on his back. Scans later revealed the worst: McKinnon fused the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. A truly devastating incident.

Understandably the Knights went on to lose that night 28-20, a score line that reflects the determined Knights’ outfit that always shows heart no matter how hard you hit them.

The news of Alex shattered the Hunter Valley and the greater rugby league community, with tributes flooding in for him and his family. Players, coaches and sporting identities all over Australia took to social media to send their well wishes, the most fitting tribute coming on Sunday the 30th of March at Hunter stadium. The Knights were facing the Sharks; what we witnessed will live with the Knights and rugby league forever. After the team ran out on the field, joined by coach Wayne Bennett and the 20,000 strong crowd, they all rose as one for Alex McKinnon. Knights’ hard man Jeremy Smith described it as the most emotional moment in his career, later admitting he and the boys were fighting off tears. The Knights went on to thump Cronulla 30-zip, 17 blokes playing for their wounded brother. It’s moments like these that scorch their way into rugby league history, a moment that will live in the hearts of the rugby league fan forever.

If you think it couldn’t get any worse for Newcastle, guess again. We learnt this week that Hunter sports group owner and Knights’ sole owner Nathan Tinkler is on the verge of bankruptcy. Behind on player payments, the club’s future has a scary uncertainty, but this won’t stop the boys from banding together and going to war again next round when they meet the Warriors. Their ability to ignore the off-field distractions is true testament to their professionalism, brotherhood and their love for that famous blue jersey. So to the Newcastle Knights, I say good luck for the rest of the season; who knows, I may be a closet supporter.

Jeremy Smith chats to Peter about how tough the year has been:

PF: Monday night was a heartbreaking loss at the hands of one of your former clubs – it must have been even harder to take while sitting on the sidelines?

JS: Yeah mate it was horrible, travelling to Brooky {Brookvale} is never easy, but to get so close was heartbreaking.

PF: Sitting 15th on the ladder with just two wins this season; certainly not the way anyone expected the year to start, considering the success of 2013. Has Wayne got a few tricks up his sleeve?

JS: Haha yeah he does, he’s just trying to keep us positive with all the distractions going on around us, but he’s the master at that. Keeps us very positive.

PF: It’s no secret that Hunter Sports Group is in financial turmoil, plus the heavy rumours Nathan Tinkler is broke; has this affected the sides’ on-field performance?

JS: It’s always in the back of your mind, but I’m seasoned to it now, it’s certainly not nice to open the paper up and constantly read negative stuff, but the players are covered by the NRL for our payments so we are all good there.

PF: How has the Alex MacKinnon incident affected the club?

JS: I won’t lie, it’s been very emotional, Alex is such a good kid; he would give you the shirt off his back if you asked. It has brought the playing group closer together, seeing him is tough. But he’s a tough kid so you know he will get through it.

PF: The Cronulla game back in March when Wayne came out on the field and you all joined together must have been a moment you will never forget?

JS: It was so hard, emotions were flowing through all the boys, we were fighting back tears, but that’s us, we are a family and we came together for our brother, I didn’t care what happened that day, but as it was, we smashed them.

PF: You have a week off now, when can we expect to see you back?

JS: Haha, I hope to be back for the Warriors game. I’ve been running and training well so fingers crossed. Plus I’ve been doing plenty of weights so very keen to get out there – watching it on TV is killing me.

PF: And finally, QLD or NSW?

JS: Queensland all the way brother, they have too many superstars. I love watching them smash the Blues!!!


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Peter Fegan

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