Rugby League


Gold Coast Titans upset Newcastle Knights' celebration for Alex McKinnon

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On the day they were supposed to rise for their injured teammate, Jeremy Smith said the Knights let Alex McKinnon down with an unacceptable performance in their loss to the Gold Coast at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.

McKinnon wiped tears from his eyes as captain Kurt Gidley wheeled him on to the ground before kick-off, and players from both sides struggled to contain their emotions as Newcastle’s biggest home crowd this year stood, applauded and chanted the injured forward’s name.

That was supposed to inspire the Knights to a fourth straight victory but, instead, they committed 15 handling errors in a fumble-fingered effort against a Gold Coast team that were not on their game either but were more composed when it mattered.

‘‘Very disappointed, in front of our home crowd, to dish up a performance like that, especially when we had so much to play for with Rise For Alex day,’’ Smith said.

‘‘We let our mate down. It’s a pretty sombre mood in there at the moment. Macca’s still in there, he’s got a smile on his face, and that’s just Macca. He’s always smiling, the kid. He doesn’t have to say anything. We knew we let him down, and like I said, it’s one of those things that we’ll never get back now.’’


Playing at left centre, Titans wrecking ball Dave Taylor scored a try and set up another for back-rower Mark Minichiello as the visitors cleared out to a 16-0 lead midway through the second half.

The Knights rallied from an 18-0 deficit to beat Cronulla 31-18 at Remondis Stadium seven days earlier and tries by Joey Leilua and Tyrone Roberts in the 61st and 70th minutes raised hopes of a similar revival.

It could have been a different outcome had video referees Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten awarded Darius Boyd a try in the 64th minute, but the Queenslander was denied and the Titans extended their lead when James Roberts scored a converted try in the 79th minute.

Knights coach Wayne Bennett was at a loss to explain why his team produced their worst performance of the season when they had so much to play for.

‘‘We finished up raining on our own parade. It’s just been such a crazy season, I’ve given up trying to work out why,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s no reason for that type of performance here today from us. I just can’t get my head around it.’’

Apart from letting McKinnon down, the Knights almost certainly killed off what was left of their finals aspirations. Starting with a game against defending premiers Sydney Roosters at Hunter Stadium on Friday night, they must now win their last seven games to have any hope.

‘‘I can’t get my head around why we’ve won three in a row and we turn up here today on such a great occasion, wanting to repay everybody for their faith and their donations and everything, and we just, well, you watched it,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘Maybe I’m too hard. Maybe there are a lot of those issues that still linger with them regarding Alex. You’d have to ask each one of them individually, and I don’t intend to do that.’’

Gidley was hampered by a groin injury and did not return after half-time. Injuries ruled senior Knights James McManus (foot) and Chris Houston (knee) out of what would have been their 150th NRL games.

‘‘Obviously it was a big occasion for everyone in Newcastle and Alex in particular. We had a job to do out there today and we just didn’t do it,’’ vice-captain Jarrod Mullen said.