IF THE Civic precinct is the heart of the city, then McDonald Jones Stadium is its lungs. At least, it is where crowds go to yell and sing their lungs out.
Since it was officially opened as the Newcastle International Sports Centre by the Queen in 1970, that turf has cradled soccer, rugby union, baseball, and rock musicians, including the massive earthquake relief concert in 1990, which attracted a record 42,000 people to the ground.
Yet above all, the stadium is synonymous with the Knights. Such is the power of rugby league in Newcastle that the shape of the playing field shifted from an oval to a rectangle.
Yet the greatest force in that sports centre is when thousands of Knights fans open their mouths and empty their lungs as they demonstrate their three-syllable hometown name is just made for chanting: New-ca-stle! New-ca-stle!
The roar of identity can be so loud that, sitting in the stands, you have no hope of hearing the lungs of the players’ working ever harder as they run down the race and onto the field. But the Knights can hear us.
“Oh, it’s sensational,” explains Brock Lamb. “Your heart starts beating faster, especially when you hear the clapping and cheering. That’s what you play for, the excitement of the fans.”
Lamb is the Knights’ five-eighth and Rookie of the Year. He may wear one of those hip three-days’ growth on his face, but that can’t hide his youthfulness. Lamb is just 20. Yet he’s old enough to remember watching Andrew Johns run onto the field, the same journey he now makes into the heart and soul of a city.
Brock Lamb wears his own heart under his sleeve. Around his right wrist is tattooed a string of Roman numerals. Those numbers are the birthdates of his mother and older sister.
“I can’t miss their birthdays that way, I just have to go like this,” he says, twisting his wrist, “and I work it out!”
Lamb declares, “I’m a loud and proud Maitland boy”, before he adds, “But that’s a Novocastrian.”
For Lamb, what he loves about Newcastle is found in that stadium.
“As a football player, it’s hard to go past the way our fans are,” he says. “It’s loyalty and just the passion about the football club. You can see how much it drives us as players.”
To Lamb, the measure of the fans, and the city, is in the way the crowds still turn up and exercise their lungs, even when the team has been bottom of the ladder. And when he had a tough game in July against Canterbury, headline writers may have had a field day creating puns with his surname, but from the town he received only encouragement.
“That helped a lot,” Brock says. “I copped it on the chin, and to have everyone supporting me - the team, the coach, the fans, the community - that means a lot.
“You can see it in everybody, that there are challenges in life, but you just have to push forward. That’s the mentality of Newcastle, and that’s the very reason people want to live here.”
Lamb acts on his words. Straight after we yarn, he is off to the gym then he’s going to the hospital to visit his good mate, Nathan Pili, who sustained a serious back injury in a rugby league match while playing for the East Maitland Griffins in June. Lamb visits his friend most days. Not that he sees it as a big deal.
“It’s just the Newcastle way,” Lamb shrugs. “You just have to help.”