Knights win dedicated to injured McKinnon
The Cronulla Sharks are consistently kept short of the mark by a spirited Newcastle Knights side, taking out the match 30-0 at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.PT1M29S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-35sge 620 349 March 31, 2014
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Wayne Bennett admitted he was teary in the pre-game huddle on the field in support of injured Knights forward Alex McKinnon.
All week the Newcastle Knights had asked their fans to rise for the injured McKinnon, and in a emotional afternoon at Hunter Stadium, Bennett's men rose to the occasion.
Brothers in arms: Knights players before kick-off. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Leilua(3), Rochow, Boyd, Roberts||Tries||6||Tries||0||Players|
|Players||Roberts 3/6 (50%)||Conversions||3||Conversions||0||Players|
|Players||Penalty goals||0||Penalty goals||0||Players|
|Players||Field goals||0||Field goals||0||Players|
The famously taciturn coach was emotional after the match and said the two points meant little after the week the club had to endure.
With McKinnon still in a Melbourne hospital in an induced coma after breaking his neck against the Storm last Monday night, the Knights produced a spirited performance to thrash a hapless Cronulla 30-0 in front of a crowd of 18,196.
"I'm proud ... I'm proud of the club by the way it's conducted itself and the people that we've got here," Bennett said. "But I'm flat right now. I wouldn't have cared if we'd have won or lost the game the way I feel."
Out of reach: Newcastle's Akuila Uate evades Cronulla's Andrew Fifita. Photo: Getty Images
It was Newcastle's best performance of the year and has kick-started their season after three consecutive losses - but the match, which was highlighted by a treble to centre Joseph Leilua - took on far greater significance than the two points they pocketed.
A sea of red and blue rose as one before the game, as Bennett and his coaching staff joined the Knights players in an emotional embrace on Hunter Stadium.
"I didn't want to look at too many of them [in the crowd] to be honest with you, it wasn't good for my eyes, I was starting to get tears," Bennett said.
Lending support: Knights fans show their support for Alex McKinnon during the match against Cronulla. Photo: Getty Images
The Sharks also showed their support, joining the Novocastrians in an emotional applause for the much-loved ginger top from Aberdeen.
A plane flew over the ground before the game with a banner that read ''Get well Alex 232'' - a mark of respect for the 232nd first-grade player to don the Knights' jersey.
The No.16 jersey McKinnon wore in the match against Melbourne last Monday night has also been retired for the season in another touching gesture from the club.
Playing for Alex: Knights captain Kurt Gidley gets a pass away against the Sharks. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Skipper Kurt Gidley will join several teammates on a flight to Melbourne on Monday to see McKinnon for the first time since he was taken from AAMI Park on a stretcher in a neck brace.
"Obviously Macca's with us for the rest of the year," Gidley said.
"He's a teammate for the rest of the year and there's a few of us making the trip down to Melbourne tomorrow, which will be an emotional day I'm sure, for the first time seeing him since last week's game.
Newcastle Knights v Cronulla Sharks
The Knights mascot with juniors. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
"But he's with us for the rest of the year. He's our teammate. He's going to be on our jersey and part of our spirit for the rest of the year."
There was always going to be a question mark over how the Knights would respond to the tragic news that has rocked the club and code.
Would they be able to ride the emotion and use it as motivation? Or would their minds and hearts by elsewhere?
"Emotion can be a negative and it can be a positive thing," Bennett said.
"It's how you handle that and we talked about how to handle that and I think they did a really great job with it - as they've done all week. They've been outstanding all week and I thought today was a real credit to them."
Judging by Newcastle's opening set with the ball and the vigour they ran it with, desire wasn't going to be an issue.
With Darius Boyd a late inclusion after overcoming a hamstring injury, the Knights never looked threatened.
Willie Mason stood up in the middle of the paddock, Leilua was dynamite out wide and in Jarrod Mullen's absence, halfback Tyrone Roberts orchestrated a victory that will go down as one of the most memorable in the club's history.
The loss has left Cronulla anchored to the bottom of the ladder, the only team in the competition without a win after four rounds.
It's a long road back for the Sharks, who made the second week of the finals last year. The last team to win the premiership after a 0-4 start to the season was the Newtown Jets in 1933.