The message from coach Nathan Brown to frustrated supporters was simple after Newcastle’s encouraging 24-all NRL draw with Canberra in their first home game of the year: turn up or shut up.
After a 30-12 loss to Gold Coast and an insipid display in the 48-6 defeat to South Sydney, Newcastle’s inexperienced line-up showed fight and promise to come back from a 16-0 deficit and lead the Raiders 24-18 on Saturday in round three at Hunter Stadium.
A late try from Brenko Lee and conversion from Jarrod Croker sent the game to golden-point extra-time, where both sides had four unsuccessful shots at goal.
Many of the 13,745 supporters on hand stood and applauded the effort from Newcastle, who took the wooden spoon last year in the fallout of now-bankrupt former owner Nathan Tinkler’s reign.
Under the ownership of the NRL and with little corporate support to secure third-party agreements, the Knights are relying on young local players to rebuild with a new coach.
The situation was highlighted against the Raiders, who had former Knight Joseph Tapine make his debut for the club. The 21-year-old Junior Kiwis forward signed a lucrative deal to join Canberra from 2017 but was released early to make the move last month.
The approach, however, to back local talent will please many long-suffering fans, who hunger for a return to the club’s premiership glory days of 1997 and 2001 which were built on home-grown stars such as Andrew and Matthew Johns, Matt Gidley, Paul Harragon and Steve Simpson.
Although any repeat of that success appears a long way off, Brown was calling on disgruntled supporters to get behind his young squad, which included Knights juniors Jacob Safiti, 19, Sione Mata’utia, 19, and two-try debutant Cory Denniss, 18, on the right-side defence.
“I think the local people have been complaining for a lot of years,” Brown said.
“They’d say to get a team with local kids getting an opportunity.
“Now that they’ve got an opportunity, I’d like to think a lot of the keyboard warriors could actually turn up and actually cheers for them like the crowd did today.
“We can’t guarantee them anything but they are actually getting what they wanted, so a lot more of them, rather than getting on social media and bagging people and saying stuff, they should actually turn up and support the boys.
“If we keep giving efforts like that, I would think they should turn up.”
Newcastle have away matches against the Warriors (March 28) and Storm (April 2) before their next home game on April 10 against Wests Tigers.