Knights in shining armour more like chocolate soldiers
On the Sunday Footy Show today, they showed footage of the 1997 grand final, when the Newcastle Knights produced one of the great grand final upsets to knock over the Manly Sea Eagles.
Down 16-8 at half time against the 1996 Premiers, the Knights came storming home, with the footage of Darren Albert’s final minute try still bringing a tear to many a Novocastrian eye.
It was a hard, courageous, and inspired performance by a team with far more character than natural ability.
What a difference 15 years makes. This year’s Newcastle Knights are a pale imitation of all those which have gone before them. They’re not a team without ability; they’re a team without character.
Nathan Tinkler made much of the club’s tradition when he bought the club in last year’s coup. He bought back the farm: Buderus, Tahu, and the vastly overpaid and overrated Snowden were all brought back to relive glory days.
Well Mr Tinkler, that famed Knights spirit has never been about the names or where the players came from. It has always been about attitude, and producing on the big occasion. It has also never been about money.
Sunday’s match at Brookvale Oval was a big occasion. After the limp, lifeless efforts of the first two thirds of the season, the Knights looked like they were coming good, and that they might be able to do something in the finals if they could win their remaining games. That would be a tough ask, but not impossible for the Knights who have always been able to surprise.
Not today. I started writing this article when the score was 22-4 after 20 minutes. It was 38-4 after 38. The Knights might as well have stayed on the bus.
The lowest point came in the 50th minutes, when Chris Houston trotted five yards offside off a goal-line drop out without a care in the world. He looked as if he was scarcely paying attention.
It began with a kickoff out on the full and continued from there. It has been that way all season on the big occasions.
In round one against St George, they were meek and went down in golden point to a Dragons side which has since proved tepid themselves. Away to Brisbane, they went down 24-0 inside twenty minutes, caught up and then dropped their bundle again. 30,000 came to watch them host the Bulldogs two weeks ago, and they were down 24-0 in fifteen minutes. And now their efforts at Brookvale.
Every time they have needed to prove themselves, they look as though they don’t even want to be there. Decorated though he is, Mr Bennett has to accept some of the blame when a side appears so devoid of motivation.
The Knights have infinitely more money and resources than the side of the 1990s and 2000s. But they have infinitely less character. In 2005 they lost 13 in a row to start the season and ended up with the wooden spoon.
Yet on their 13th loss, 18-14 at home to St George, 20,000 people stood and applauded. The crowd knew they were struggling, but they knew they were trying.
That’s why earlier this season, for what I suspect was the first time in the club’s history, Knights fans booed their players from the field after their home loss to Canberra.
No amount of money can create character within in a team. The now privately owned Knights will lose their public with more performances like their pathetic, miserable first half at Brookvale. All the Tinklers, Bennetts and dollars in the world are worth nothing to a team without heart.