INSPIRATIONAL Knights captain Kurt Gidley was crowned Player of the Year for the third time in five years at the club’s annual awards presentation at Wests Leagues Club last night.
The 29-year-old NSW and Australian utility won in 2007 and 2008, meaning four-time winner Danny Buderus is the only player in the club’s history to win the award more times than Gidley.
Buderus, who is expected to rejoin the Knights for one last season next year to play under incoming coach Wayne Bennett, was Player of the Year in 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2006.
On an emotional night for the Knights, whose season ended with an 18-8 loss to Melbourne in the qualifying final at AAMI Park last Sunday, players, supporters and sponsors farewelled veteran centre Adam MacDougall and coach Rick Stone with special presentations.
The NRL’s oldest player this season, 36-year-old MacDougall has retired after playing 195 first-grade games – including 158 for Newcastle – since his debut in 1995. Stone will hand over the head coach’s clipboard to Bennett but will remain at the club as his assistant.
Gidley moved past dual winners Marc Glanville (1991, 1993), Robbie McCormack (1992, 1994), Tony Butterfield (1988, 1996), Andrew Johns (1998, 2002) and Steve Simpson (2001, 2005).
Switching between fullback and the halves, depending on team needs, he played in 18 of Newcastle’s 25 NRL matches, taking his career tally to 187. He missed seven games due to injuries and State of Origin commitments with NSW.
Gidley edged out second-rower Chris Houston, the only Knight to have played every game this season, Dally M winger of the year Aku Uate, 2010 Knights Player of the Year Matt Hilder, and utility back Wes Naiqama, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury against Manly in July.
Hilder and Isaac De Gois, who have shared the dummy-half role for the past three seasons, became the first Knights players to tie for the Players’ Player of the Year award.
It was the second straight year Hilder was judged Players’ Player after he won that prize and the Player of the Year award last season.
De Gois, Newcastle’s Player of the Year in 2009, played the last of his 63 games for the Knights against the Storm last Sunday. He will rejoin Cronulla next season.
Former NSW winger James McManus won Stone’s coach’s award, and retiring five-eighth Ben Rogers was named Clubman of the Year and won the Community Alliance award in recognition of his role as a club ambassador at charity and community events.
The Knights have nominated Rogers for the NRL’s Ken Stephen Medal, which is awarded for outstanding community service and will be announced in grand final week.
Emerging forward Joel Edwards won the Once-A-Knight Old Boys Gladiator award.
Gidley was the top pointscorer with 130, from five tries and 65 goals. Uate, who made his NSW debut this season, was top tryscorer for the second straight year with 20 from 23 games.
Uate, Gidley, Houston and Neville Costigan will join other members of the Kangaroos and Prime Minister’s XIII train-on squad for training in Sydney tomorrow.