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Fateful Knight: How Clint Newton's career changed in an instant

Clint Newton has taken on the great responsibility of heading up the Rugby League Players Association but he was always the kind of player up for a challenge.

The son of a golfing legend, injury cruelled his chance of being a part of Newcastle's 2001 premiership-winning side and when he was cut mid-season by the only club he ever wanted to represent, he thought his rugby league dream was coming to a premature end.

But a phone call out of the blue led to grand final glory and changed the course of his life on and off the field.

NRL.com has dusted off this feature on Newton from the Rugby League Week vault, first published on September 29, 2016.

Clint Newton's journey to success

Having been forced out of his beloved Newcastle Knights and thrown a lifeline by Melbourne, the last thing Clint Newton expected to see when he walked into the Storm in mid-2007 was two of his new team-mates ripping into each other in the boxing ring.

But there they were, teen sensation Israel Folau and fellow rookie Sam Tagataese settling their differences as players and coaching staff watched on . . . and Newton wondered what he’d gotten himself into.

Clint Newton in his last game at Newcastle in 2007 before being forced out.
Clint Newton in his last game at Newcastle in 2007 before being forced out. ©NRL Photos

Nine years on and with that same playing group now counted among his closest friends, Newton can reflect on a club culture he feels privileged to have been part of – even if it took a heartbreaking exit from the Knights to get him there.

“It was nothing serious between those two blokes – a very minor disagreement – but that’s the way they did it down there,” Newton recalls.

“They would sort it out in the ring for 30 seconds and then give each other a hug and get on with business.

“The other amazing thing on that first day was the CEO Brian Waldron had called a staff meeting to introduce me to everyone and he had obviously checked out my background and where I was born and my family.

“He made me feel so comfortable because he had gone to that trouble, and then went round the whole room and each person said where they were from and what they did. I knew straight away that the Storm had a great culture.”

Having grown up in Newcastle and spent six years playing in a Knights team renowned for its unbreakable bond, Newton knew a thing or two about culture at a footy club – or so he thought.

When Brian Smith took the reins in 2007 and decided a player cleanout was needed, the league-mad Hunter region went into meltdown.

And Newton was in Smith’s sights, despite the fact he was closing in on 100 games for the club.

“The reality was Brian didn’t want me. He didn’t see me as a valued member of the team and he said it would be in my best interests to leave,” Newton recalls.

“I was deeply entrenched in the Newcastle culture and I was brought up to value honesty and trust, but a lot of that was being eroded.

Clint Newton revived his career at the Storm.
Clint Newton revived his career at the Storm. ©NRL Photos

“We had the worst loss in the club’s history (71-6 against Brisbane in round 11) and I was released the next day. I got hammered in the press, saying I was jumping off a sinking ship, and because I stayed silent on a lot of things that were going on, I copped it. But I had too much respect for the club and the playing group to tell the full story.

“I wanted to be validated as a person and a player and when that’s not there it’s not conducive to playing good footy.”

As Newton sought solace with a few mates and a few beers at Newcastle’s Exchange Hotel, the course of his life was altered by an unexpected phone call.

“I was with Joey and Bedsy and Kurt Gidley when Craig Bellamy rang at around 9pm on that Monday,” Newton remembers.

“He had coached me in Country Origin a few weeks earlier and he asked if I would be interested in coming to Melbourne and I said, ‘Bloody oath!’ I just wanted to play footy.

“He told me that even though he had wanted me at the club he had also asked the leadership group. That’s the way they did things and he would never sign a player without asking them.

“I had never even heard of a leadership group but he valued the opinion of Matt Geyer, Cooper Cronk, Dallas Johnson, Matt King and Mick Crocker so highly that he would not have called me without their OK.

“He told me they all wanted me at the club and for my self-worth to be validated like that after what had happened at Newcastle was huge.”

Two weeks later, Newton found himself starting for the Storm and playing the full 80 minutes in a gutsy 4-2 win over the Warriors in Auckland despite the absence of six Origin stars.

The lone tryscorer for the undermanned Storm was Kiwi enforcer Jeremy Smith in the 71st minute, keeping Melbourne at the top of the ladder and saving new boy Newton from a Bellamy blast.

“I had given away the penalty that gave the Warriors the 2-0 lead so I was very relieved to see Jezza get over,” Newton said. “Jezza became my weights partner at the club and one of my best mates.

Clint Newton hits it up for Penrith in 2012.
Clint Newton hits it up for Penrith in 2012. ©NRL Photos

“I’ve got to give him a big rap because he never complained or whinged about being shifted to the bench when I went there. It was the same with Mick Crocker. They just got on with the job and that shows how good the Storm culture is.”

Incredibly, the Storm would lose just one more game for the entire season on their way to the title – and Newton would collect a winner’s ring he feared may have eluded him for good after injury robbed him of a spot in the Knights’ 2001 premiership side.

“The grand final itself is just a blur because it goes quickly but I do remember scoring a try late in the game and walking back towards our tryline and hearing my old man screaming out from the crowd,” Newton said.

“Next thing the camera is on Dad and he’s on the big screen holding a beer and toasting me. He loved every minute of it and we caught up after the game in the rooms for a few beers and it was pretty emotional when I thought about where I had come from and how it had ended at Newcastle.

“One thing about my family is we don’t look back. Ever since Dad’s accident in 1983 we don’t look back, we just concentrate on positives and looking ahead.

“I got to be part of that club and win a premiership and then had the best four years of my life in England where I met Carly.

“Then I got to be part of the new generation of players at Penrith (in 2012-13) and then win the NSW Cup with Newcastle and none of that would have happened had I stayed at the Knights in 2007 and not been cut.”