IT was a crowd most NRL clubs could only dream about, almost 20,000 on a gloriously sunny winter afternoon that became just another dark day for the Newcastle Knights.
How many more dark days are ahead? How many more before the patience of the famously loyal Knights faithful runs out?
After Sunday’s meek capitulation, the possibility of a third consecutive wooden spoon looms ever more likely, and the mood of an increasing number of Turton Road loyalists appears to have turned.
For some, grim, stoic patience has shifted to something closer to anger, and now an elephantine question looms: how much longer do we have to put up with this?
In the history of Australian rugby league, only four other clubs have collected three or more consecutive wooden spoons.
Three of them – Newtown, University and the Gold Coast Seagulls – have either folded, or no longer compete in the sport’s top flight.
In previewing the match billed as the battle to avoid the wooden spoon, Newcastle Herald sports journalist Robert Dillon summed up why this match meant more than just two points.
“It’s this simple – people in Newcastle are sick of losing,” he wrote.
But if there has been some “gallant” losing this season, Sunday was something dire – and the angst of the fan was given voice by none other than the club’s chairman, Brian McGuigan, who labelled the latest loss “unacceptable”, “embarrassing” and “a catastrophe”.
The club, he said, could not continue on in its current state.
So what is next?
The light on the hill remains the sale of the Knights, and an end to the interminable holding pattern that the club seems to be in.
An eventual sale to the Wests Group seems likely, though nothing is being rushed.
That may be frustrating for fans, but in the long run it’s vital. The deal, once it’s done, must be one that lasts, and that means making it palatable to the group’s 125,000 registered members.
Stability off-field is essential if the club is to return as a force on field.
And if positives are hard to find, there is at least the knowledge that despite the veiled threats of possible relocations, there were on Sunday another 20,000 reasons why it will never happen.