PLAYING alongside childhood heroes Danny Buderus and Kurt Gidley had already made Alex McKinnon’s first year at the Knights the stuff of dreams.
The 20-year-old Aberdeen junior’s surreal season continued last Wednesday when he experienced the Anzac Day dawn service at Nobbys Beach with Gidley and new teammate Willie Mason.
As a boy, McKinnon used to watch in awe as Mason, at the peak of his powers, wreaked havoc playing for the Bulldogs, NSW and Australia.
Yesterday at Hunter Stadium, he was doing defensive drills with the 2004 Churchill Medallist, running into the tackle pads Mason held, and hanging on his every word about where to hit an opponent to stop their progress.
‘‘That was the first time I ever met him. It was that good, and we went for brekky afterwards,’’ McKinnon said of his Anzac Day morning with Mason and Gidley.
‘‘He brings such an aura around him, and he questions you to step up and play a good game.
‘‘Willie’s a big boy and he knows how to tackle, especially on the bigger boys like [Penrith prop Sam] McKendry. Hitting underneath the ball is a big thing I’ve got to work on.’’
McKinnon said the Knights were determined to play more attractive football tonight to repay the faith of their fans.
Newcastle have averaged home crowds of almost 26,000 in the their first three home games.
‘‘We get massive crowds – I’ve never experienced anything like it – and our fans are entitled to see us play good at home because we haven’t done that in the last few games,’’ he said.