Troubled year Bennett's finest hour
In his final game as Newcastle coach, Wayne Bennett has described the season that has been as his "finest hour" following his side's 40-10 shellacking of the Dragons.
In a tumultuous season for the Knights that saw the career of Alex McKinnon end, Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden banned by ASADA, Russell Packer and Zane Tetevano sacked, Darius Boyd admitted to a clinic for depression and ongoing issues around the club's ownership, Bennett has described his role as a "manager of situations" rather than a coach in 2014.
"In terms of my coaching career, this year might have been my finest hour. I know I'm in a result-driven business but no-one knows what we have been through this year [unless] you were a part of it all," Bennett said after the game.
"These guys had to turn up every week under a lot of different situations and a lot of times I wasn't coaching here, rather just managing situations. Making sure we held it all together and finish off the season with a bit of credibility which we managed to do and we finished as a team which is more important than anything else."
With the Knights bidding farewell to club legends Anthony Quinn and Timana Tahu, and others in Adam Cuthbertson and Travis Waddell, the jubilant Newcastle faithful perhaps saved their loudest cheers for veteran prop Willie Mason – coach Bennett having nothing but positive words for the 34-year-old who joined him in the post-match press conference following the win.
"He's quite a remarkable athlete, Willie," Bennett said. "He doesn't miss training sessions. He has had no major injuries where he has to have time off before he can play so it is quite remarkable."
For Mason, it was a matter of preparing himself for an emotional final game for the Knights after the club made the decision not to re-sign him three weeks ago, though in typical Mason fashion it was accompanied with plenty of laughter.
"This is probably new territory for me," Mason philosophised.
"I usually walk out mid-contract so it is a bit different, like doing the lap of honour and stuff like that.
"It isn't the end for me though. It is just another chapter in the book and it has been a great three years here for me so obviously it has been a little bit emotional."
Asked about the cheers he received and the massive "Willie" chant that rang out through Hunter Stadium midway through the first half after a memorable hit-up, Mason labelled it a "good feeling".
"It was the biggest cheer ever. I only played 60 games here. Imagine if I played 200, I would've been carried off the field like a king," Mason joked.
"It reminded me probably when I was at the Bulldogs when they used to cheer for me about 10 years ago. It was a good feeling. You can't really say it didn't feel good so it will be a very good memory."
As for his future, the prop is still unsure where he will end up but has spoken of his preferred playing position come 2015.
"Probably five-eighth," Mason quipped before getting serious.
"I'm not too worried about it. Things didn't turn out the way I wanted to here but I believe things happen for a reason.
"I'll continue playing next year; until I can't compete with these young bulls rolling around on the field then I'll retire. But if keep dusting them up like I did today then I'll just keep playing."