SPORTING DECLARATION: Our town, our teams

OUR town, our teams.

Hopefully there will be bigger and better occasions for the Novocastrian faithful in the weeks and months ahead.

But today will be one of those rare, unifying occasions when Newcastle’s sporting flagships are in action simultaneously, leaving many fans wishing they could be in two places at once.

At 4.30pm, the Knights run out at Penrith Stadium for their NRL season-opener against the Panthers.

An hour later, the A-League clash between the Jets and Melbourne Heart kicks off at Hunter Stadium.

Just a few years ago, such a double booking would have left spectators at either venue with one eye on their game and a radio in close proximity, providing score updates from the other fixture.

These days iPhones ensure that anyone with an interest in both teams is able to stay well informed.

There is also, obviously, the Foxtel option of keeping tabs on two games concurrently in the comfort of your own lounge room, but just make sure the batteries in your remote are well charged.

While it is too early in proceedings to say today’s games are make or break for either the Knights or the Jets, there is plenty riding on their respective results nonetheless.

For the Knights, it is their first chance to put one of the most tumultuous off-seasons in the club’s history behind them.

In its own right, the Russell Packer affair was a scandal that would have embarrassed any self-respecting organisation.

Throw in several other off-field incidents, most notably Willie Mason getting arrested for driving under the influence, and the Knights spent most of the summer in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Some teams thrive on such drama and adversity and use it to their advantage.

Canterbury, for instance, emerged from the 2004 Coffs Harbour furore to win the premiership.

Newcastle, in contrast, have never dealt well with crises.

After the so-called ‘‘Dirty Dozen’’ episode in the 2005 pre-season, they finished with the wooden spoon.

In 2010, after the debacle that led to Danny Wicks being jailed, they ran 10th and never seriously challenged for the play-offs.

My guess is that this time the unwanted publicity the Knights have endured over the past two months will serve as motivation.

Veteran coach Wayne Bennett will try to instil a siege mentality in his players, reminding them that on-field performances are their best avenue for redemption.

Winning a grand final would be the most effective way of silencing their critics.

Whether they are good enough to do so, with an ageing roster and chief playmaker Jarrod Mullen suffering a long-term injury, is a moot point.

As for the Jets, their quest for the A-League finals will hinge largely on tonight’s outcome.

Two points behind the top six and four points behind the top four, Newcastle are the most unpredictable team in the A-League. With six preliminary rounds remaining, they control their own destiny.

At their best, they have proven a match for any team – as evidenced by the fact they have beaten the top three sides – Brisbane, Wanderers and Adelaide – away from home.

At other times they have appeared likely to miss the finals for the fourth successive season and possibly collect the wooden spoon. A victory on their own turf tonight – after a six-game winless streak at Turton Road – shapes as a launchpad into the play-offs.

There will be no trophies up for grabs at either Hunter Stadium or Penrith. No laps of honour.

Just a rare chance for both our teams to give our town reason to cheer. Here’s hoping they make the most of it.

A-LEAGUE: Jets fans.

NRL: Knights fans.

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