Even with the experience of 1997 under their belts and a star-studded line-up to match, there weren’t many pundits backing the Newcastle Knights in to win the 2001 Grand Final.
The Knights were met in the big dance by a rampant Parramatta side, who were run-away minor premiers with a five-point gap to their nearest rivals.
The Eels finished the season with a +433 differential, more than 250 points better off than the next best side in the competition.
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However, according to then-fullback Robbie O’Davis, the bus trip down to Sydney was the point when the Knights realised they had the premiership all-but locked up.
“When we drove into town the night before the game, 100,000 people lead us out,” O’Davis told the Our Town Our Team podcast.
“Hages (Coach Michael Hagen) put us up in Parramatta at the Park Royal.
“As we drove through Parramatta there was like a flag in one of the windows, balloons in that window over there, but there was no ‘go Parramatta’ signs up anywhere.”
While the bus ride into Parramatta was encouraging for O’Davis and his troops, it was some words from Ben Kennedy when they arrived which gave the Knights the push they needed.
“Everyone sort of saw it and didn’t really comment too much on it, so we went into the first meeting…and Ben Kennedy said, ‘did anyone see that or was it just me’,” he explained.
“We said ‘what, the town support?’ And he goes ‘there’s one guy in their team who comes from this town…the rest are just brought in to win a Grand Final. We’ll win this by 50 points.’”
What followed the following night was a perfect first half from the Knights, who blew the Eels off the park through tries to Bill Peden, Steve Simpson and Kennedy himself to go into the sheds with a match-winning lead of 24-0.
O’Davis to this day believes the first half demolition can be owed back to that bus trip and the words from Kennedy.
“We had a perfect half of football,” he said.
“I just couldn’t believe we were going to a town with 100,000 people screaming us out of town.
“We realised that we’re playing for a town, and they’re playing for a team.”