|No other player in the NRL competition plays with as much passion for his side than Kurt Gidley.|
Photo: Brett Costello (News Limited)
Kurt Gidley’s press conference following Newcastle’s loss to Cronulla on Sunday was a show of genuine emotion and passionate love for his club that goes well beyond the money he earns. Gidley labelled the performance an “embarrassment” and claimed he didn’t feel comfortable waving to the fans after the loss. While the Knights have now lost four straight games, their injury-riddled line-up has been boosted by the exciting and long-awaited return of Jake Mamo at fullback. Mamo’s desperation and pulsating play shine light on a new dawn at Newcastle, coupled by the exit of current captain Kurt Gidley at seasons end.
Gidley’s staunch-stance for any Knights’ player to walk out on their contract if they didn’t want to be at the club after Joseph Leilua’s messy mid-season departure to the Canberra Raiders was a leader’s call for a club that appears to be going through a culture change. His comments should have been a clear message to the rest of the squad in the lead up to the Sharks game but after their ninth loss in ten games; the Knights find themselves on equal points at the bottom the ladder.
Gidley is set to move on at years end and will head to the English Super League to join the Warrington Wolves. His decision just over a month ago to head abroad was based on the recognition that the time was right for both him, and the Knights. Gidley chose to go on his own terms, believing the talent that was beginning to come through at the Knights needed opportunities in the main positions he often occupies.
While Mamo and the Mata'utia brothers will form part of the new look Knights squad in the future, Gidley is from the old-school Knights’ era. He debuted in 2001, a time when the Newcastle Knights were flying. The Andrew Johns' driven team was built on hard work and a commradary that other teams could just never reach. The Knights were a ruthless team who put their opponents to the sword; they would front up every week and put on a display that was worthy of dozen beers after the game, regardless of the result. They knew what the team meant to the town, and they played for the people of Newcastle just as much as they played for themselves. They knew Rugby League in Newcastle meant more to the fans than it does for any other club. They felt and held a responsibility.
Kurt Gidley knows this. He built his career on this sort of club culture and has been trying to carry it on ever since the departure of club legend and now immortal, Andrew Johns. Gidley is not a modern footballer as such; he still carries this moral responsibility to the community around. His emotions after Sunday’s loss show this, his call-to-arms for players to leave is further evidence. He’s a locally born and raised player, a one-club man and as loyal as they come. But the question for the Knights is, when Kurt Gidley leaves at the end of the year, who carries this on? While the results haven’t been there for the Knights this year you have to admire the way Gidley’s takes a loss so personally.
At the beginning of the year, the Knights came up with a mission statement to guide the team forward into a new era. After tumultuous years under Nathan Tinkler’s ownership and Wayne Bennet’s reign at the helm, the Knights developed a blueprint to get back to the ways of their glory years. Its guiding statement was to play ‘The Newcastle Way’. With a tough, gritty, uncompromising and never-say-die attitude, that would have other teams dreading the visit to Hunter Stadium. The mantra also forms a new recruitment strategy to muster and develop players from within the Knights system. The departure of Gidley, Scott and Leilua will open up opportunities for those already at the Knights to earn their spot, but playing with ‘The Newcastle Way’ will also have to be built by the young squad, as this year it is just not there.
With what should be one the most formidable forward packs in the competition, the knights aren’t living up to their own professed standards. They have been dealt a cruel blow with another mid to long term injury to key playmaker Jarrod Mullen, but the with the likes of Kade Snowden, Beau Scott, Jeremy Smith and the Sims’ brothers playing up front, the Knights should be well beyond where they are currently are. Having rid themselves of the lazy and lethargic Leilua, the Knights outside back should now be ready to hit the line firing with youngsters Mamo, Mata’utia and Gagai syncing with the veteran James McManus and former Fijian-flyer Akuila Uate. The ever-reliable Gidley has occupied more positions than an employment agency temp worker, and played a dependable role at halfback on the weekend but the chop and change shifting around of Gidley never really helps team consistency.
The Knights face an old-foe in the Brisbane Broncos on Friday night in what should be a classic match replicating the by-gone era of Knights dominance, but the side of 2015 will have to compete with another depleted line-up. Back in the day the Knights would have relished coming into a game as such underdogs against the competition heavyweights, but whether they can find that old ‘Newcastle Way’ again remains to be seen. They’re sure yet to prove it this year.