Novocastrian faithful mob Gidley like rock star in last home-town appearance

Kurt Gidley: a career in photos
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The 10 games that made Kurt Gidley: photos

Another stirring effort required from Knights

EVEN a man of Kurt Gidley’s famed fitness levels was entitled to be exhausted.

For more than an hour after Newcastle’s nail-biting 20-18 loss to Canterbury, his final match at Hunter Stadium, the inspirational Knights skipper was public property.

Making speeches. Signing autographs. Posing for selfies. Accepting kisses and cuddles from Knights nannas.

High-fiving all and sundry, while a live band belted out tunes and the masses queued for a minute of his time.

At one point, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler emerged from the bowels of the stadium to pay his respects personally to both Gidley and retiring veteran Clint Newton, then wandered back to the dressing room without a word to anyone else.

And finally, just when Gidley was wondering when he would get a chance to draw breath, came a barrage of media interviews.

Never once did a beaming smile leave his face.

All of which was a reminder that while there have been bigger, faster, stronger and more skilful players to have worn the blue and red, there have been no better clubmen.

Knights coach Danny Buderus hit the nail on the head at the post-match press conference when he said: ‘‘You’d be happy if your kids grew up like Kurt, that’s for sure.’’

Given the enormity of the occasion, it would have been easy for a lesser character to lose focus.

Not only was it Gidley’s last appearance at Turton Road before he leaves to play for Warrington next year, it was also his 250th game in the NRL. Before the game kicked off, he ran through the traditional Old Boys guard of honour, embraced his wife and parents and carried his two young daughters through a giant banner to salute the parochial crowd of 23,604.

Then somehow, as if flicking a switch, the former Test and Origin handyman was back in game mode and focused on the task at hand. The ultimate professional, as always.

Twelve minutes into proceedings, the 33-year-old conjured up the game’s opening try with a deft chip kick that eluded Bulldogs fullback Brett Morris and bounced opportunely for Tariq Sims to score. His sideline conversion reaffirmed home-town hopes that perhaps this would be Gidley’s night.

But by half-time, the visitors led 14-6 and this eternal perfectionist was not satisfied with his contribution.

‘‘I thought I was a little bit quiet in the first half and I had a bit of a think at half-time,’’ he said.

‘‘I realised this was my last chance to put everything on the line and bust my arse for my teammates and the fans.’’

Gidley has produced countless match-winning performances for the Knights since his 2001 debut.

The crowd farewell to Kurt Gidley. Picture Newcastle Knights via Twitter

The golden point field goal in Brisbane. The semi-final win at home against Manly. The hooker-fullback experiment at Penrith. The conversion after full-time against Melbourne last year.

But surely Saturday’s display rates alongside any of them.

Eight runs for 86 attacking metres, 31 tackles, a try assist, a goal … and in the 70th minute, a trademark try with a dummy and a jink, the 80th of his top-grade career.

Suddenly the home side were within two points. The game hung in the balance until the final play, but the Bulldogs rudely refused to relinquish their lead.

It was a result that the Western Suburbs Rosellas junior accepted with mixed emotions. For the first time in his career, defeat did not seem such a catastrophic event.

‘‘A win would have been great,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not dirty on losing. It was a wonderful occasion. We didn’t give up, and we showed plenty of character. I think that’s important for me to remember.’’

When the siren sounded, and he was hoisted on the shoulders of teammates Newton and Kade Snowden to salute the fans, a few tears were inevitable.

‘‘I’m an emotional guy when it comes to something you care about, and I couldn’t be prouder to represent and captain my home town,’’ he said.

‘‘To play my 250th game, at home, in front of the fans, my wife and two kids, my parents, grandparents, and all the ex-players, it couldn’t have worked out any better.’’

And so just 80 minutes remain until an era ends.

For the first time since Kurt’s brother Matthew debuted 19 years ago, the Gidley name will not feature on Newcastle’s playing roster.

To put that in context, the Gidleys have appeared in a combined 471 games for the Knights. Andrew and Matthew Johns managed 425.

The Novocastrian faithful acknowledged this historic juncture by mobbing Kurt like a rock star after his home-ground farewell.

‘‘These people have supported me since before I debuted in first grade,’’ he said afterwards.

‘‘I came through up Jersey Flegg, back when all three grades played on the one day.

‘‘So people have a real connection with the team in Newcastle, I think because it’s such a close community.

‘‘People see you around the streets, at the shopping centres and obviously at the footy, and there’s a real connection with the fans.

‘‘It was the least I can do to thank them.’’

The feeling, clearly, was mutual.

What an amazing turnout to farewell captain Kurt Gidley! #goKnights#ThanksGidspic.twitter杭州夜网m/J7jPnB5kNi

— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) August 29, 2015

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