TEN years after they blew Parramatta off ANZ Stadium to win the 2001 NRL grand final, the architects of Newcastle’s premiership triumph were still laughing about it.
Captain and Churchill medallist Andrew Johns, back-rower Ben Kennedy and coach Michael Hagan sat on stage alongside recently retired Adam MacDougall at the Once-A-Knight Old Boys grand final lunch at Mayfield yesterday and recalled the night fun beat fear.
Exactly 10 years to the day since they shocked the highly fancied Eels 24-0 in the first half en route to a 30-24 victory in the NRL’s first night grand final, the 2001 premiers were reunited.
Only Danny Buderus and Josh Perry (both still playing in England), Timana Tahu (holidaying in the US) and Steve Simpson (working) were missing from the team who secured the club’s first unified premiership four years after they pipped Manly in the ARL title decider.
Tahu will return to play for the Knights next year and Buderus is at short odds to join him.
Centre and master of ceremonies Mark Hughes remembered how ‘‘nervous and stiff’’ the Parramatta players looked at the grand final breakfast in their ‘‘Miami Vice black suits’’.
Hagan said the Knights stuck to their regular weekly routine but the Eels, coached by Brian Smith, headed for the south coast for a midweek camp and ‘‘looked pretty uptight’’.
‘‘They came into the game under a shitload of pressure but for us, it was just a good time and a heap of fun. Parra were shitting themselves and we were having a good time,’’ Kennedy said.
Kennedy said returning to Ausgrid Stadium, known then as Marathon, in the early hours of Monday morning to 15,000 screaming fans was ‘‘one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life’’.
Johns described the 2001 season as ‘‘one of the most enjoyable years I ever played’’.
‘‘It was a business but it was fun, and that’s the way we played,’’ Johns said.
‘‘It was a dream come true to represent your state and your country, but to win a comp with the players you play all year with, and to captain the only team you ever wanted to play for to a premiership, it doesn’t get any better than that.
‘‘You form a bond with blokes that will last forever.’’
One of just five Knights to have played in the grand final wins of 1997 and 2001, humble back-rower Bill Peden scored two tries against the Eels and famously played down his role, saying afterwards: ‘‘The sun even shines on a dog’s bum sometimes.
‘‘They were both special for different reasons,’’ Peden said yesterday of the two premierships.
‘‘In 1997 it was special because it was the first one ... and all the emotion involved with that, but 2001 had its own emotions attached to it in terms of being a unified premiership and we were challenged on the fact that 1997 wasn’t.
‘‘I was lucky to have played in two great sides. You look at the blokes sitting here today and you have to pinch yourself to think you actually played with those blokes, so I was very blessed.’’
Prop Matt Parsons added: ‘‘They weren’t just great players, they’re great blokes, and they were terrific blokes to play with.’’