Former Newcastle Knights captain Kurt Gidley has been named ambassador for the Voice for Mining round in 2021, a major community event that he says will stir emotions for the NRL squad and everyone connected to the industry.
Voice for Mining Family Day wasn’t able to go ahead last year due to coronavirus restrictions. But Knights fans and mining families are being invited back to watch the players in the replica mining hi-vis jersey against the St George Illawarra Dragons in Newcastle on Easter Sunday.
Gidley was the first player to captain the Newcastle Knights in the hi-vis mining jersey in 2014. And he’s been reflecting on what he says was one of the more emotional days of his career.
“I remember my first impressions when I drove in. The big pieces of mining equipment were a real eye opener, seeing them up close. And running out of the tunnel and seeing all of the hi-vis. It was exciting, there was a great deal of expectation, and they are great memories,” he said.
“It was totally different to what we would normally see and it was a real show of unity from our supporters, including so many people who are proud to work in the mining industry.”
Gidley, whose brother Matthew also won an NRL premiership with the Newcastle club in 2001, has a strong connection with the rugby league community and the mining industry.
Gidley opens up on Voice for Mining importance
His father Geoff drove coal trains between Narrabri and the Port of Newcastle for almost 30 years. And his brother Adam also worked in rail for a decade. So the connection to those hi-vis colours during his playing days was strong.
Eight years after leading the Knights to their first win in hi-vis, Gidley says he now realises how much it meant to him, his family and Newcastle Knights fans across Northern NSW.
“I felt a great deal of responsibility on Voice for Mining round. I have a lot of mates and former teammates that have worked in and around mining and I really wanted to represent everyone. I wanted to play tough and resilient like the people who work in the industry… and I wanted them to be proud of my performance and the team’s performance.”
That overriding emotion is something that current players also connect with, including star fullback Kalyn Ponga whose father Andre has worked in mining in NSW.
“My old fella is tough and that's exactly what the jersey is. He's hard working, he's dedicated and when we put that jersey on, that's what we want to be,” Kalyn said.
“Before we run out, that's probably the first thing we talk about, look around the room, look at what you're wearing. Not only that, look in the stands and the people of Newcastle are hardworking. I think everyone that knows Newcastle knows that. When we put this jersey on, we want to do them proud.”
Gidley tells us that he didn’t speak to his Dad a lot about his work when he was younger, but he knows the sacrifices he made and how hard he worked for his family.
“I think it would have brought him a lot of pride to have his son playing in the hi-vis. It’s something that resonated with my Dad in the industry he worked in,” Kurt said.
“He was always really proud of me and my brothers when we were playing footy. But I think that day, maybe a little more as he sat there in his hi-vis vest and seeing me running out and captaining the team, it would have been a bit emotional.
“It was emotional for me. I’m always passionate and emotional before every game. I was representing my family - my Dad, my brother Adam who worked at Pacific National for ten years. It stirred some emotion for me personally, but I think it resonated with the rest of the team too that it was more than just a normal game.
“There will always be a strong connection there because we represent the Hunter region, and I’m sure in the future we will continue to see the sons of coal miners coming into the team.”
The former origin utility has moved from working as a full-time athlete into a role at the recruitment and labour hire business Protech, including helping to place young people into roles in mining and associated industries.
Katie Brassil, an executive at Centennial Coal and a Director of the Wests Group which owns the Newcastle Knights, says that Gidley exemplifies the qualities of the jersey and is someone that has represented the community and mining families so well.
“Kurt is an absolute superstar. He’s done everything a footy player could want to do. But what’s most important about Kurt, and his brother Matt, is the fact that they’re born and bred,” she said.
“They represent local talent and they can show all of the young ones running around out there is that you too with the right amount of passion, commitment and a big enough dream can become a Newcastle Knight in the future.”
The Newcastle Knights will wear the replica hi-vis mining jersey against the St George-Illawarra Dragons on Voice for Mining Family Day on Sunday 4 April at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle. Knights fans will be joined at the game by thousands of NSW mine workers and their families.