CAPTAIN Kurt Gidley said Knights players were pleasantly surprised by the sight of injured team-mate Alex McKinnon in the dressing room when they arrived at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night for their game against the Bulldogs.
McKinnon’s smiling face helped lift the players’ spirits as they returned to the sheds after their nail-biting 16-12 loss to the NRL leaders.
Gidley said McKinnon’s determination to recover from the ‘‘devastating spinal injury’’ he suffered against Melbourne at AAMI Park on March 24 was a constant source of inspiration, and the skipper could not help feeling they had let the 22-year-old Country Origin forward down by letting the game slip through their fingers in the final 10 minutes.
One of a handful of players to visit McKinnon at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital on Friday before joining the rest of their team-mates in overnight camp, Gidley said he had no idea McKinnon would be at the game.
‘‘He’s got a great attitude, Alex. It’s great to see him with a smile on his face, and it was a nice surprise today,’’ Gidley said at the post-match media conference.
‘‘I saw him at the hospital yesterday but none of us boys knew he was going to be at the game today. We knew he was going to be close to coming to a game.
‘‘It was an instant smile on my face when I saw him in the dressing-rooms. It was nice, and that’s probably what made it a bit hard seeing him after the game today.
‘‘It would have been great to get the result for him today, but it was still great having him here at the game and it’s nice to see the progression he’s making too, from where he was.’’
McKinnon was given a leave pass from the rehabilitation ward of the Royal North Shore Hospital’s spinal unit to attend his first game since he fractured and dislocated two vertebrae when driven into the ground in a three-man tackle in Newcastle’s 28-20 loss to the Storm five weeks ago.
Sitting in his electronic wheelchair alongside fiancee Teigan Power, and behind Wayne Bennett, McKinnon watched the action unfold from the Knights coaches box.
In a stirring moment midway through the first half, images of McKinnon sitting among the Knights’ coaching staff were shown on the giant television screens at the ground, prompting spontaneous applause from the crowd of 15,286.
Fans of both teams stood and clapped to express their admiration and demonstrate their concern and care.
In an interview posted on the Knights website on Friday, McKinnon said he was overwhelmed by the support he had received from the rugby league community and beyond, and could not completely express his gratitude.
‘‘I’ve obviously come a long way,’’ McKinnon said.
‘‘I’ve got a lot more movement back in my right arm and a lot of movement back in my left arm, so it’s just a matter of time before I hopefully have a bit more movement in my legs.
‘‘I’ve got a great sensation and feeling in my legs and it’s a lot of positive signs.
‘‘I’ve got a great family, they’ve been here every day, and I have got a great partner [Teigan].
‘‘Just being able to have them by my side for the last four weeks has been able to help me the most.’’
EARLIER REPORT: Hurt Knight Alex McKinnon provides update on his recovery: video, photos
IT was the smile that every Newcastle Knights rugby league fan wanted to see.
The smile arrived early and often as injured player Alex McKinnon gave a personal update via video yesterday.
McKinnon appeared upbeat after four weeks of recovery, explaining on the Knights website he had ‘‘great sensation’’ in his legs.
‘‘I’ve obviously come a long way,’’ the 22-year-old from Aberdeen said.
‘‘I’ve got a lot more movement back in my right arm and a lot of movement back in my left arm, so it’s just a matter of time before I hopefully have a bit more movement in my legs. I’ve got a great sensation and feeling in my legs and it’s a lot of positive signs.’’
Beyond the medical updates, McKinnon’s demeanour gave a glimpse of the determination that made the 22-year-old one of the NRL’s rising stars.
Speaking from Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, McKinnon said he expected to spend another two months having two physiotherapy sessions a day ‘‘which is pretty much just getting my arms and legs moving’’ as well as occupational therapy.
‘‘I’m obviously not moving much through the day so I’m a bit stiff,’’ he said. ‘‘I was playing Connect Four yesterday and that was fun, frustrating but fun. It’s been a pretty tough month but there are a lot of improvements and that’s keeping me going.’’
McKinnon also paid tribute to his parents, Scott and Kate, as well as fiancee Teigan Power, for taking time away from work to stand by him.
He singled out Teigan, who he pledged to walk down the aisle when he announced their engagement earlier this month, as a pillar of support.
‘‘I’ve got a great family, they’ve been here every day, and I have got a great partner,’’ McKinnon said.
‘‘Just being able to have them by my side for the last four weeks has been able to help me the most.
‘‘I think it was only last night I was saying ‘I wish I could do something else, I wish I was better’ and she [Teigan] said ‘You are better compared to two weeks ago’.
‘‘Teigan’s still got uni and her job, and the people at the Sunnyside [Tavern at Georgetown] have really looked after her.’’
Support from his teammates and the club had also been vital, McKinnon said, including a huge performance he was yet to see.
He singled out the emotional 30-0 victory over Cronulla as one of the ways his teammates had helped him, but admitted he hadn’t seen the match.
The game, the first the Knights played after he was hurt, began with a standing ovation from the crowd and the Sharks while the Knights players and staff locked in a tight huddle.
‘‘I still haven’t watched the game,’’ McKinnon said. ‘‘I watched maybe a clip of it that went for about two minutes, I was in tears straight away.’’
His teammates had done ‘‘incredible things’’ for him since the moment he was stretchered off AAMI Park, McKinnon said.
‘‘One of the things I miss most is seeing the boys and being around them,’’ he said.
‘‘Them coming down really makes me happy, it really makes my day – it makes my week, to tell you the truth.
‘‘They’ve been very strong for me and having them here has been unbelievable, I’ve loved seeing them.’’
The Newcastle Herald revealed this week that league officials were considering awarding a medal named after McKinnon to the man of the match in the City-Country fixture.
McKinnon said the #riseforalex social media campaign and the groundswell of support after his spinal injury was both unexpected and invigorating.
‘‘I’m pretty overwhelmed by all the support to tell you the truth, I didn’t expect it and once I get through this journey I really do [intend] to go and see everyone,’’ he said.
‘‘I can’t emphasise how much I really do appreciate the support and how much it’s helping me, even with cards or messages from people in Sweden or New Zealand, just people that don’t know me.
‘‘At the start it was pretty overwhelming, I was in tears a fair bit and I just didn’t understand why so many people wanted to help me but Wayne made it pretty clear to me about why so many people want to help and I really would like to thank them eventually once I’m back.
‘‘Hopefully I’ll get to see everyone soon at a game, which I’d really enjoy.’’
EARLIER REPORT: Hurt Knight Alex McKinnon provides update on his recovery: video, photos
ALEX McKinnon has provided a personal update to Knights fans on his recovery after the devastating spinal injury that may have ended his NRL career.
Speaking in a video, the Aberdeen 22-year-old remains upbeat and describes having "great sensation" in his legs four weeks after the incident.
He said he expects to spend another two months rehabilitating in Sydney, where he undergoes physiotherapy twice a day "which is pretty much just getting my arms and legs moving" as well as occupational therapy, including games of Connect Four.
"That was fun...frustrating but fun," he said.
"It's been a pretty tough month but there are a lot of improvements and that, that's keeping me going."
McKinnon also paid tribute to his parents Scott and Kate as well as fiance Teigan Power, who he has pledged to walk down the aisle.
"I've got a great family, they've been here every day, and I have got a great partner [Teigan Power]," McKinnon said.
"I think it was only last night I was saing 'I wish I could do something else, I wish I was better' and she said 'you are better compared to two weeks ago'."
He also paid tribute to his teammates and their emotional boilover shut-out against the Sharks in his honour.
"I still haven't watched the game," he said.
"I watched a clip of it that went for about two minutes and I was in tears straight away."
"One of the things I miss most is seeing the boys and being around them."
McKinnon said the #riseforalex campaign and the support he received was both unexpected and overwhelming.
"When I get through this journey I really do [intend] to go and see everyone," he said.
"I can't emphasise how much I really do appreciate the support and how much it's helping me."
"At the start it was pretty overwhelming...Wayne made it pretty clear to me why so many people want to help and I really would like to thank them once I'm back."
The story Alex McKinnon makes surprise visit to Knights dressing room for Bulldogs game first appeared on Newcastle Herald.