There is almost no place in Australia that loves rugby league more than Newcastle does. In Newcastle, rugby league and the Knights are woven into the fabric and history of the town.
Newcastle takes great pride in their ‘old boys’ – men like Andrew Johns, Michael Hagan, Matthew Gidley, Paul Harragon, Allan McMahon and Danny Buderus, who have been some of the greatest servants for the red and blue since the club was formed in 1988.
If you need evidence of how much people in Newcastle love their rugby league, look no further than the crowd figures for home games at Hunter Stadium in 2016.
Despite having won only one match this season – against the Tigers – the crowds are among the best in the NRL. The Knights have had ten home games so far this year and 147,312 fans have walked through the gates, at an average crowd of 14,731.
For a team that’s lost it’s last 15 games in a row (a new club record) and three times been held to nil, this is exceptional. It demonstrates how much the Knights mean to the Newcastle. It also demonstrates that, despite a very tough season for this proud rugby league town, the fans have not given up.
Unfortunately, the loss to the Penrith Panthers by 42-6 demonstrated that while Novocastrians have not given up, on Sunday the Knights gave up on themselves.
As a rugby league fan, I do not expect my team to win every week. I do not expect a premiership. My expectation is that my team is fit and that each week they take the field and try their best.
I am often very critical of fans who accuse players of ‘not putting in’, ‘not caring’, ‘not taking pride in the jersey’ or ‘giving up’, because of how intense the training is every week and how grim a dressing room is after a big loss. To say that the players don’t care is something I find difficult to believe, particularly when a player is always just one moment away from having it all taken away due to injury.
However, on Sunday, Newcastle fans were well and truly let down by a team that according to coach Nathan Brown “gave up”.
There were so many disappointing things about the performance, but one of the worst was that at halftime, Newcastle were well and truly in the game, with the scores locked at six apiece.
This is a team that throughout the year, despite having lost the majority of their games, has challenged premiership contenders like the Melbourne Storm and Canberra Raiders.
I honestly thought an upset was on the cards.
But when Matt Moylan went over early in the second half, heads dropped. The Panthers then went on to score another five tries and leave the Knights absolutely decimated.
Newcastle are a much better team than their second-half performance demonstrated, and that is probably the most disappointing thing of all.
In his post-match conference, Brown commented that “we were obviously outclassed by some skilful players at times today, but I just thought there were areas today where some of the defensive things we did just weren’t to the standards they should be, or were in the first half.”
He was absolutely right. Vision of Jake Mamo jogging when a line break was made and very disappointing stats in the second half, including 24 missed tackles and 11 errors, made it hard viewing (and I am not even a Newcastle fan).
Funnily enough, there is one man who has been missing on the field for the Knights over the last two weeks.
I know this is someone I have mentioned multiple times throughout the year, but Nathan Ross does not give up. Throughout the year, he has earned the respect of his teammates, the commentary team and fans.
It’s no coincidence that the Knights have suffered two of their biggest losses of the season in weeks where Ross was not on the field.
Would Ross’ presence have seen the Knights win? Perhaps not, but having someone on the field with a never-give-up attitude would have helped his team to keep their heads up and keep competing.
The Knights have three more games to close out a year they would rather forget.
Sunday, August 28 is Newcastle’s last home game of the year, and when the club celebrates Old Boys’ Day.
This day is held annually and is an opportunity for the club’s former players and staff members to step onto the turf at Hunter Stadium to celebrate the Knights, the club’s rich history and what the club means to the people of Newcastle.
I certainly hope that the Knights can put Sunday behind them and aim up for the final three rounds, particularly for Old Boys’ Day – which at this stage is looking like a winnable game against the Rabbitohs.
Most Knights fans know that the club is in a stage of rebuilding that is going to take some time, however the fans have shown that they are there for the ride.
It’s time for the Knights to say thank you to those fans that continue to turn up, by turning up themselves for the full 80 minutes – no matter how bleak the final result may be.
This is @mary__kaye from @ladieswholeague