McKinnon will win this battle: Smith
He saw the flame-haired back-rower coming up through the ranks at St George Illawarra and now Jeremy Smith is backing Alex McKinnon to win the toughest battle of his life; walking his bride down the aisle.
As his teammates were preparing in Townsville for Monday night's clash with the Cowboys, McKinnon posted an inspirational message via social media that he and Teigan Power were engaged and later that afternoon he was moved from The Alfred hospital in Melbourne to a Sydney hospital to begin on his long road to recovery.
The rugby league community has had its collective fingers crossed for the past two weeks that there would be some good news following his devastating spinal injury and McKinnon's display of determination from his hospital bed gives all who have been touched by his story something to look forward to.
The process of rehabilitation will be lengthy and gruelling but Smith, who has been a teammate of McKinnon's at the Knights for the past two years, has no doubt that he will achieve his goal on his wedding day.
"When I saw it I just thought it was Alex being Alex. He's pretty strong in the head and if he can do that I'll be right behind him," Smith said of McKinnon's post on Instagram.
"He's going to have a long, tough fight on his hands but I think he's capable enough to overcome all the injuries that he's got now and I think he'll be able to do what he said.
"We're right behind him, we get messages from him and from Teigan because we see her a fair bit as well but the club's been great in helping him and his family and filling us in on what's going on too."
Although he didn't get onto the field, McKinnon was first called up to join the Dragons' NRL squad in Round 11 2010 and Smith believes that the same work ethic that enabled him to score two tries on debut as a 19-year-old in 2011 will hold him in good stead for the fight that is in front of him.
"A lot of time has gone by since then but he's still the same. He's real focused and wanting to get to his goals and he'll do anything it takes to get there," said Smith. "He's a hard-worker and credit to him... To get where he was today he had to work hard and I reckon he'll overcome this."
A week after a 30-0 shutout of the Sharks on an emotion-charged first game since the incident where Smith said the Knights would have won no matter who they'd played, Newcastle were brought back down to earth with a 28-2 defeat at the hands of the Cowboys on Monday night.
It was a firm reminder that emotion can only take you so far and Smith says that it is now up to each individual to take responsibility for how season 2014 is remembered.
"You can use bits and pieces of it," Smith said of the emotion surrounding their injured teammate."It comes back on yourself to put a bit of ownership on yourself to perform week in and week out no matter what's happened in the past.
"For us we've just got to start focusing and concentrating a little bit longer in games, giving away less penalties and making fewer mistakes.
"It wouldn't have mattered who we played last week we would have won. It was just one of those games where we just knew we had to play well and we had everything to play for.
"The community's coming together as one, getting right behind Alex and his family and the club and everyone wants to do their little bit to show their support for him."