IT is not often Wayne Bennett is taken by surprise.
But as the master coach sifted through the rubble of Newcastle’s fifth successive loss last weekend, a 32-16 hammering at the hands of lowly Canberra, he reflected ruefully on the absence of skipper Kurt Gidley, who will not play again this season after surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder.
Bennett’s admission was notable because earlier in the season, when Gidley was first injured playing against Cronulla in round two, he took a pragmatic view.
It was a setback, certainly, but no team could afford to rely on any individual.
‘‘Oh well, he’s one of the top players in the game,’’ Bennett said on March 11.
‘‘But we showed a lot of courage here today and we’ll just have to overcome that.
‘‘No team is immune from injuries.
‘‘We’re not any different, so we’ll just get on with the season and do the best we can.’’
Fast-forward three months and it appeared Bennett was playing a different tune.
‘‘Kurt Gidley’s injury obviously has had a huge effect on us, bigger than I thought it would be,’’ Bennett said on Saturday night.
‘‘He’s the one we can’t get back.’’
Bennett may have initially been of the opinion that Newcastle were collectively strong enough to withstand the loss of any player.
But history suggests otherwise.
The Newcastle Herald can today reveal the statistics that prove the Knights are twice the team with Gidley on board.
Well, twice as likely to win anyway.
And even more remarkably, the statistics suggest Gidley’s presence exerts even more influence on Newcastle results than the great Andrew Johns once did.
From 1994 to 2007, Johns was Newcastle’s talisman. Of the 249 club games he played for Newcastle, they won 66.2per cent.
Of the games he missed, the Knights won 37.5per cent.
Since his retirement, Gidley has assumed a similar stature.
Of the 100 games the utility back has played for Newcastle since 2007, Newcastle have won 52, obviously for a 52per cent success rate.
Of the 35 games he has missed through injuries or representative commitments, they have won only nine, at a strike rate of 25.7.
In other words, during the Johns era, whenever the champion playmaker was unavailable, Newcastle won an average of slightly more than one game in three.
Since then, whenever Gidley is sidelined, the Knights win one game in four, on average.
This season they have won three of the five games in which he has played, and lost seven of the eight he has missed.
Those statistics do not bode well for what lies ahead this season.
After 13 games, the Knights are 14th on the ladder and three clear wins adrift of the top eight with 11 games to play.
If they lose to in-form Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium on Monday night, they will need a miracle to reach the play-offs.
And unless they can find a solution to their no-Kurt curse, that one-in-four winning ratio suggests the wooden spoon could be a genuine possibility.