FOR 20 years it has been an annual highlight on the Newcastle Knights’ calendar.
Ask any fan, player, or former player what the last home game of any season means and they will unanimously reply: “Old Boys’ Day”. An occasion when the greats of the club are remembered for their heroic feats of bygone years, before forming a symbolic guard of honour to welcome their modern-day counterparts onto the pitch.
Launched initially in 1998 as a one-off, 10-year celebration of the club’s foundation crusade, Old Boys’ Day has not only survived the test of time in Newcastle, but the concept has been embraced by most other clubs in the NRL and even at grassroots level.
On Saturday, when Newcastle host St George Illawarra in their season finale at McDonald Jones Stadium, more than 120 former players are expected to attend the traditional get-together.
The highlight will be a pre-game tribute to the Knights’ eight Hall of Fame members: Andrew Johns, Paul Harragon, Matt Gidley, Michael Hagan, Mark Sargent, Tony Butterfield, Danny Buderus and the late Allan McMahon, who will be represented by his wife Glenice.
Once a Knights Old Boys chairman Steve Crowe, who was elected to a new-look committee 12 months ago along with Kurt Gidley, Bill Peden, Mark Hughes, Tim Maddison, Jarrod O'Doherty, Jason Allen, John Lehman and Tony Townsend, said there had been a concerted push to re-connect with former players of more recent times.
“One of the things about Old Boys’ Day is that it has always been well attended by players and staff from the foundation years,” Crowe said. “A lot of those blokes still live in the area and feel a real attachment to the club. They helped build it and take great pride in that.
“Then there were the players who were involved in the successful period that produced the two premierships, in 1997 and 2001.
“We see a lot of them on Old Boys’ Day, but probably the ones we’d like to see more of are the players over the last decade or so.
“That’s why it’s great to have someone like Kurt Gidley involved, because he played with most of them.
“Hopefully we’ll see a few younger Old Boys there on Saturday.
“And if there is anyone we haven’t been able to get in touch with, for whatever reason, they’re all welcome to turn up on the day.”
The Knights will be hoping to restore their once-formidable record on Old Boys’ Day when they tackle the finals-bound Dragons.
Their win-loss ratio, starting with a 34-20 comeback against the now-defunct Adelaide Rams in 1998, stands at 14 successes from 20 games – but their past three Old Boys’ Days have all ended in defeat.
Overall, including the inaugural 1988 campaign, Newcastle have won their last home game of the season 21 times from 30 attempts.