ALEX McKinnon’s parents effectively kicked him out of their Hunter Valley home when he was still a boy so he could pursue his dreams of becoming a professional rugby league player.
Scott and Kate McKinnon ignored their teenage son’s tears and helped him pack his bags so he could leave Aberdeen and enrol at St Gregory’s College at Campbelltown, a league nursery that had produced the likes of Jack Gibson, Trent Barrett and Jason Taylor.
‘‘When I was in primary school, they always had the idea for me to go away, so they saved up enough money for me to do that and to have a better life,’’ McKinnon told the Newcastle Herald in April 2012, a few weeks into his first season at the Knights.
‘‘It was hard to leave, because all my mates were there.
‘‘I remember the week before I was going, there I was.. crying, because I didn’t want to go, but I said to myself then that if I didn’t go I’d be stuck at home, working in the mines or something for the rest of my life.
‘‘Not that that’s a bad thing, but I wanted to do better for myself.’’
McKinnon was doing better for himself.
He was ticking all the boxes and hitting all the milestones.
Former Dragons coach and captain Craig Young spotted him playing at a schoolboys carnival and he was recruited into St George Illawarra’s junior representative ranks.
Skilful, athletic and equally comfortable in the back line or the back row, McKinnon was just 19 when he made his NRL debut for Wayne Bennett’s Dragons in June 2011.
Then he followed his mentor to the Knights at the end of that season.
Apart from a desire to continue his career under Bennett’s coaching, McKinnon was keen to come home and be closer to his family and friends, so when the 2012 NRL campaign kicked off, the rangy redhead was wearing red and blue.
As fate would dictate, his first game for the Knights was against the Dragons, who won 15-14 in an extra-time thriller at Hunter Stadium, but McKinnon never doubted his decision.
McKinnon played all 24 NRL games in his first season at the Knights, was judged Newcastle’s rookie of the year and was nominated for the Dally M rookie of the year award.
He also represented NSW under-20s and captained the Junior Kangaroos.
McKinnon was earmarked as a future NSW State of Origin player when he participated in Laurie Daley’s Emerging Blues camp in the 2013 pre-season, then took another step in April last year when he made his Country Origin debut against City at Coffs Harbour.
If not for that fateful tackle against the Storm at AAMI Park on Monday night, Newcastle’s game against Cronulla at Hunter Stadium on Sunday would have been his 50th in the NRL.
Just three games into the final year of the three-year contract he signed in 2011, and two months after celebrating his 22nd birthday, McKinnon was on the verge of putting pen to paper on a new deal and extending his tenure at the club he never wanted to leave.
‘‘I want to stay here forever. I want to be at this club,’’ he told the Herald in April 2012.
‘‘I’m happy here, I’m happy with all the people around me, all my mates are here, my family, and we’re setting this up to be a great club.’’
Bennett described him as a future Knights captain.
Tragically, it appears that day may never come.