Knights captain Kurt Gidley and his players celebrate a try against the Sharks on an emotional afternoon for the club in the wake of Alex McKinnon's injury. Copyright: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Bennett proud of Knights' Alex tribute

Emotional Knights coach Wayne Bennett has spoken of his pride in the club and its fans following their 30-0 victory over the Cronulla Sharks on Sunday afternoon.

In the wake of the terrible injury suffered by Alex McKinnon last Monday, Knights fans rallied at Hunter Stadium to see the Novocastrian club win their first game of the 2014 season.

While it was an undeniably tough week for Newcastle, Bennett had one simple message to his players before kick-off: "Play well."

Watch the NRL LIVE with a 2-week free trial.
Get the NRL Digital Pass now!

Bennett, who said it had been the hardest week of his long and illustrious coaching career, talked to his squad throughout the week about emotion and how to move forward.

"Emotion can be a negative thing and it can be a positive thing," he said.

"We talked about how to handle it so I think they did a really good job – as they’ve done all week. They’ve been outstanding all week and it’s a real credit to them.

"I’m proud of the club in the way it has conducted itself and the people that we have got here. I’m flat right now – I wouldn’t have cared if we won or lost the game."

The overwhelming response by fans almost brought Bennett to tears – the realisation that the fans and the community were hurting just as much as the club proving just a little too much for the supercoach.

"I felt the angst when the [fans] came to the ground and I didn’t expect it to hit me the way it did, but when I saw the jerseys and the colours I realised that they’ve been in the same hurt and pain that we’ve been in," Bennett said.

"I didn’t want to look at too many of them if I were to be honest with you – it wasn’t good for my eyes, I was starting to get tears. The fans have been wonderful."

Knights captain Kurt Gidley shared Bennett’s sentiment, noting that there was still a job to be done.

"It was a bit emotional. I think there was two sides in the shed, two ways of emotions – we needed to get the job done, we needed a smart way to get it done but there was also the emotion as well," Gidley said.

"We still got a job to do each week and we still got plenty of things to work on. Today was a great step forward defensively. We weren’t where we wanted to be at for the first three rounds defensively – today was a good step forward that we can take plenty of positives out of that.

"Coming off the field I was relieved."

Gidley emphasised that although McKinnon won't be playing rugby league in the near future, he will still remain as one of his teammates.

"'Macca's' with us for the rest of the year, he’s a teammate for the rest of the year with us and there’s a few of us making the trip down to Melbourne on Monday which will be an emotional day – the first time seeing him since last week’s game," Gidley said.

"He’s going to be a part of our jersey and spirit for the rest of the year."