Bird gutted to miss McKinnon tribute
He will join with more than 30,000 Novocastrians today and Rise For Alex but suspended Titans co-captain Greg Bird is exactly the kind of player who would also have risen to the occasion.
Sentimentalists and bookmakers alike give the Titans little chance of upsetting Newcastle on such an emotional and important day for the home side with the absence of Bird further weighting the odds in the Knights' favour.
Just days after the Titans board sent shockwaves through the club with the announcement of a comprehensive review into all aspects of the business, the Titans can ill afford to be without Bird as they attempt to rescue their season.
But more than the 80 minutes of on-field action he has been denied due to a two-game suspension coming out of Origin III, Bird won't get to honour injured Knights forward Alex McKinnon in the manner in which he is accustomed.
A Hunter Valley product like McKinnon, Bird's ties to the Knights will soon be tighter as he counts down to the day he weds Rebecca Rochow, sister of Newcastle back-rower Robbie Rochow.
He and fellow co-captain Nate Myles visited McKinnon in hospital shortly after the accident – they also spent time with Storm forward Jordan McLean – and Bird is extremely disappointed to not be playing on such an important day for the community.
"Very disappointed. You always want to go back to your home town and play where your family can come out and watch, that's one thing, but with the occasion as well for Alex, it's going to be a spectacle, not only on the field but everything that's happening off the field and in the community of Newcastle," said Bird, who came through the junior system at the Knights after playing his junior footy in Maitland. "Disappointed I can't run out onto the paddock but I'll be there with the boys in preparation and hopefully we can go out there and get the job done.
"To see someone that's been dealt the cards he has and he's still so positive about the situation it is uplifting and it makes you feel very grateful and thankful for what we have, being fit and healthy.
"I think it's a good opportunity to pay him back, to show some respect to him and I think it's a great initiative what the NRL has done, raising some money and awareness for his situation."
As much as the entire round is devoted to McKinnon and raising money for the battles he faces, the Titans desperately need two competition points in order to dim the spotlight somewhat that is currently trained on coach John Cartwright.
A loss on Sunday would almost certainly spell the end of the Titans' finals aspirations for 2014 but Bird says the enormity of the occasion will guarantee they can get no favours from the home side.
"I don't think there will be ambushes going on with 40,000 crazy Novocastrians in the grandstand," said Bird. "I know what they're like, I'm from that area, so it's going to be a battle. And the battle is going to be won or lost in the middle and that's where all big games are won and lost.
"They've got a strong, experienced forward pack down there with 'Mase' (Willie Mason) and Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott and our blokes – Nate Myles, Luke Bailey, Mark Minichiello – are going to have to stand up and give it to them and I'm sure it's going to be a fierce battle in there.
"The atmosphere's going to be pretty ecstatic really. The way they reacted after the incident first happened, they came out and had a really strong performance and all bonded together and stuck solid and got a win for Alex.
"I'm assuming it's going to be quite a similar atmosphere on the playing pitch but outside of it they're going to have 40,000 people there so it's going to be a great opportunity for a lot of these guys who haven't played in big games before, Origins and semi-final matches with packed stadiums so it's an opportunity to go out and show their wares."