MVPs for 2014: Kurt Gidley
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
If the Gidley brothers ever starred in a sitcom, something clichéd like Everybody Loves Raymond, then the role of Ray Barone would fall to Matt by default.
Before you ask, no, it's not because the comedy show was so late 90s, the same era when the eldest Gidley redefined the term flick pass.
No, we would hand the leading gig to the current Knights CEO because, for the past two years at least, it's not like Kurt could last filming a single scene anyway. Not when the footballing gods have developed a cruel penchant for sitting Kurt on the sidelines rather than starring in lounge rooms across the country.
All of which would be quite ironic for Kurt given his decorated resume, complete with Dally M nominations in a number of roles on a rugby league field for the majority of his career.
We all know what he's capable of. He's one of the rare gems in our game that has that uncanny ability to slot in at fullback, centre, five-eighth, halfback or hooker and do so at a quality level. Mark our words: at his healthy best, Kurt Gidley would make Matt Damon look like a one-trick pony.
But, and let's all say this together: the key word here is "healthy".
Kurt was reduced to playing cheerleader last September when a serious ankle injury meant he missed Newcastle's fairytale run to the qualifying final. It was a role he played with aplomb in June and July too, when a right foot problem kept him on the sidelines.
In fact, so nasty have those aforementioned gods been to the Newcastle skipper that his entire 2012 season, of which a shoulder dislocation limited him to just five appearances, has been wiped from his Wikipedia page.
But, given the comments made by Wayne Bennett last week, it seems our unlucky star is finally ready for his big break. And boy does the wily coach need him.
Criticised for his fondness of veterans Danny Buderus, Willie Mason and Craig Gower in recent seasons, Bennett proved with Newcastle's strong finals run last year that you can never have enough old heads in the joint, no matter how many trophies you've won.
In 2014, however, the seven-time premiership-winning coach has been presented with a bigger challenge: replacing the spiritual leader whose name is synonymous with "Newcastle number nine".
There aren't that many people in the Hunter who can boast as much blue and red in the blood as the retired dummy-half.
Paul Harragon was certainly one. Andrew Johns is right up there. And stand-in skipper Jarrod Mullen's stature is definitely on the way up.
It's kind of like filling in the boots of Darren Lockyer in Brisbane. And the role is going to Kurt Gidley this season.
Buderus was the life source of last year's squad. The team fed off his desire, his competitiveness, his lifelong attachment to the region, and his commitment to his teammates.
Bennett isn't going to substitute all that with names like Michael Dobson, Matt Minto, or even prodigal son Clint Newton. And he probably won't consider our appointment of Matt Gidley as on-field beater of the drum, either.
But in brother Kurt, Bennett has at his disposal a local junior, who at 31 isn't far past his prime, if he has indeed reached it at all.
Those footballing gods have a weird way of working out for you in the best and worst ways possible.
If he can put the injury woes behind him, then there's no reason why Kurt – who was on the Kangaroos bench for the mid-year Test match last season – can't be a special leader in the same way Buderus was. Newcastle will need him to be if they are to become a genuine premiership contender this season.