WHEN was the last time a rugby league team collected the wooden spoon andfans remembered the season as a success, rather than a dismal failure?
HARD YARDS: The Newcastle Knights’ win against St George Illawarra last weekend was a reward for persistence. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP
The only such instance this columnist can recall was in 2005, when the Newcastle Knights salvaged some pride from what was, at that point, the worst campaign in the club’s history.
Depleted by the off-season departures of players like Ben Kennedy, Timana Tahu, Robbie O’Davis, Matt Parsons and Michael Ennis, and riddled with injuries, Newcastle endured a 13-game losing streak to open the year.
Eventually, boosted by the return of champion Andrew Johns, they regrouped to rack up eight wins from their final 11 games, including six in a row at one point.
That season is still widely regarded by most Knights supporters as a triumph, despite it culminating in the game’s most dubious “prize”.
It was also a catalyst for a vastly improved season in 2006, when Newcastle finished in the top four after their preliminary rounds, and then won their first play-off.
Now the Knights of 2017 have a chance to emulate their counterparts of 12 seasons ago.
With five rounds remaining, it is clearly going to take some sort of minor miracle for Newcastle to avoidan unwanted page in rugby league’s annals –three consecutive wooden spoons.
There was a glimmer of hope after last week’s uplifting win against the Dragons, but then the Tigers responded 24 hours later with their upset win on the Gold Coast to retain their two-win buffer above the competition cellar dwellers.
Still, where there is life, there is hope. Maybe last week was an indication that the footballing gods have decided the Knights deserve a break. Regardless of which rung they end up occupying on the competition ladder, the next five games could well determine how 2017 is remembered by the Novocastrian faithful.
At this point, the consensus is that their young troops have competed in most games, improved significantly on last season and, most importantly, refused to throw in the towel.
Thevictory against the Dragons was a reward for perseverance, even if it wasn’t their most complete performance.
The challenge now for Nathan Brown’s troops is to tick another couple of boxes before their season is done.
Back-to-back wins –for the first time in almost two years –would be a good place to start. A win away from home would also be a milestone.
Realistically, if five or six wins had been offered before a ball was kicked, I suspect most supporters would have taken that as an acceptable result.
Newcastle are still a couple of victories short of that, albeit after allowing at least two matchwinning leads –at Kogarah and Belmore –to slip through their fingers.
As they showed last weekend, you make your own luck. If they keep turning up with the same attitude and commitment –and there is no reason to suspect they won’t –anything is possible between now and season’s end.
Alternatively, if the Knights areunable to win another game this year and cop some heavy beatings in the run home, the progress they appear to have made might be overshadowed.
The bottom line is that, while supporters are rightfully looking forward to next season, there is still plenty to play for in the next five weeks.
As was the case in 2005, sometimes the team who lose the most games deserve a genuine round of applause.
Fairytale inSuzy’s sightsDURING her illustrious basketball career, disappointments have been few and far between for Suzy Batkovic.
One major regret was her inexplicable omission from last year’s Rio Olympics, a decision that quite possibly cost a medal.
CHAMPION: Suzy Batkovic.
Her only other unfulfilled dream, playing for her home town in the national league, now appears feasible.
If Newcastle Basketball can produce a business plan to complement their new stadium, a WNBL franchise could be a reality for the 2018-19 season.
And there could surely be no better choice for the inaugural captain than our home-grown three-time Olympian.
Neymar hits the jackpotALMOST $750 million. That’s what they are saying Brazilian striker Neymar will cost Paris Saint Germain, in both transfer fees and wages.
It’s a mind-bogglingamount of money for a player and a reminder that the round-ball code has become a game of Monopoly.
CASHING IN: Neymar.
I can remember being in England in the mid-1990s, when Blackburn Rovers paid a record transfer fee of£5 million to sign striker Chris Sutton.
At the time, it was labelled a ridiculous gamble, but Sutton’s goals helped them win their only Premier League title. It remains to be seen if Neymar can have a similar impact in Paris.