Newcastle rises as one for Alex
It is very apt that "this game is our game, this town is our town" rings out throughout Hunter Stadium whenever the Newcastle Knights play.
In times of need, Newcastle and the extended Hunter community have always come to together. Sunday afternoon was no different.
From Cooks Hill to Cessnock, Aberdeen to Anna Bay and Warabrook to Wickham – a 26,401-strong contingent came together and rose as one for Alex McKinnon.
As early as the Holden Cup game the classic hills at either end of the precinct were filled to the brim.
Empty red and blue seats were instead replaced by a sea of Newcastle supporters proudly showcasing their jerseys, wearing their RiseForAlex wristbands, waving their flags and holding aloft touching tributes written on signs and banners.
It was building towards a special day and with the NRL celebrating the round of football for Alex McKinnon, this game was inevitably the crown jewel of the weekend's action.
Both teams entered the field just after 2pm, the crowd exploding upon seeing both teams being led out by the inspirational figure that is Alex McKinnon.
In touching and emotional scenes, the crowd rose as one and chanted "Alex".
There wasn't a dry eye in the house as his Newcastle teammates hugged their injured teammate – the surrounding crowd yelling "NEW-CAS-TLE" as the game kicked off.
While the crowd was met by a very flat Knights performance for the first hour of the game, a mini-comeback revived them though it wasn't to be by game's end with the Titans winning out 22-8.
Regardless of the result, the crowd stuck solid the entire game with very few choosing to leave until the very end.
A clearly dejected Knights coach Wayne Bennett was thankful for the efforts of the community.
"I just want to thank everybody for today. The people of Newcastle have been outstanding and that makes the disappointment even greater, they deserved a better performance," Bennett said.
"I couldn't be prouder of the city and the way they got behind Alex, particularly with the reception they gave him."
With it being confirmed by NRL officials following the game that the special round had produced $1.1 million dollars for the RiseForAlex fund, the rugby league community should be proud of their efforts.
Bennett added: "When the hype started for this round for Alex the response everywhere you go has been outstanding and magnificent with their generosity and I've never been prouder of the game more than this week."
Kudos, Wayne and well done rugby league fans in their entirety.