Alex McKinnon Cup a fitting tribute
It's a normal Monday morning. You open your eyes, jump out of bed and tuck into your breakfast. There have been 22 years worth of days just like this.
Work is looming but rather than sigh and roll your eyes at the thought of it, you just cannot wait to get there. It just happens that your workplace is AAMI Park in Melbourne – and your employer is the Newcastle Knights.
Your boss is the greatest. Wayne Bennett, who has been more like a father through your rugby league career.
It's closing in on kick-off and the nerves are bubbling away in the belly. Of course they are – it's a game of first grade against a formidable Melbourne Storm outfit.
It's all you can think about.
Jogging down the tunnel, the Knights supporters who've made the trip south are loud enough to make it feel like home. The ref blows the whistle and it's time to get to work. You've done it hundreds of times before.
After 10 minutes the team's ahead and things are going to plan but before you know it the Storm have put on three tries.
"Gee, Wayne isn't going to be happy."
It's 30 seconds out from half-time. Then the unthinkable happens.
Those simple things you did that morning are now no longer possible. Brushing your teeth, walking to the bus... even getting out of bed.
All because of a split second that was as tragic as it was inconceivably unlucky.
When we realised how serious Alex McKinnon's injury was, premierships and points suddenly didn't matter. Arguments and differences between clubs and fans turned to solidarity as Australia's sporting community took a collective deep breath and prayed for Alex from Aberdeen.
But 12 months on and his story isn't one of pity and grief. It's one of fight and will.
Rugby league rose for Alex.
If you could personify the 106-year history of rugby league in one player, it would be Alex McKinnon. A quiet, humble footballer from the Hunter Valley who has been dealt a cruel hand but has refused to give in.
It's hard to imagine how hard the last 12 months have been for his family. The gauntlet of emotions from little wins and the heartbreak of little losses.
When we saw video of Alex standing up out of his wheelchair there was a quiet hope as his fiancée Teigan Power stood with him arm in arm. At the time Knights coach Rick Stone told News Limited that Alex "...doesn't want to make a big song and dance about everything that he does".
And that's the mark of this incredible young man. His values are his foundation.
The Knights have been on a life-changing journey over the past year. Alex was often seen sharing a moment in the dressing sheds with his teammates or watching pensively from the coach's box. The Knights refused to let him be lost to the club.
One year on and now this mighty club from the Hunter is leading the Telstra Premiership outright, unbeaten and enjoying its best start to a season in 13 years.
Alex from Aberdeen IS our game. The Aberdeen Tigers play at McKinnon Oval named after Alex's grandfather Mal, carefully mowed and tended to each week by Alex's dad Scott.
That's why it's fitting Newcastle are playing St George Illawarra for the Alex McKinnon Cup this weekend. Regardless of who gets the two points, we can be very proud of that rugby league cares and honours our own.