DURING his countless hours as a Western Suburbs junior kicking a footy around Kentish Oval, Kurt Gidley often dreamed of playing ‘‘across the road’’ at Hunter Stadium.
Now in his 13th NRL season, the Knights captain is planning on making regular trips back ‘‘across the road’’ to Harker Oval as the Rosellas’ club ambassador.
The Knights player placement program with the Newcastle Rugby League was launched yesterday at No.2 Sportsground.
While it will not be a return to the structure of 2009 when the Knights did not field a NSW Cup side and instead filtered their reserve-graders back into the local league, it is hoped the program will give the grassroots league a boost.
All of the Knights’ NRL squad have been made ambassadors of the nine local clubs.
Gidley, who first played rugby league in the Wests under6s, said he remained a proud Rosella today.
‘‘I don’t think I’ve ever lost touch where my junior club is, and what I got out of playing for Wests as a young junior coming through for the Knights,’’ Gidley said. ‘‘It’s just across the road and they’re a great club and have done a lot for me.’’
While the top Knights like Gidley and fellow Wests junior Jarrod Mullen will not spend time in the local league this season, a host of NSW Cup or National Youth League players could make appearances in the ‘‘Real NRL’’.
Gidley said it was important those players used it as a launching pad.
‘‘It’s up to the attitude of the guys going back and playing in the local comp,’’ he said.
‘‘They need to go back and train and play well to prove to coaches at the Knights that they want to be back at the Knights in first grade or NYC.’’
Most local club bosses were at yesterday’s launch and have been urged by Newcastle Rugby League general manager John Fahey to build relationships with their ambassadors to capitalise on the program.
Wests president Wayne Hore said he hoped to benefit from Gidley’s profile and rugby league ability in junior development.
‘‘Kurt is willing to come back and do clinics with our schoolboys and we’ve got a 17s and 18s, so they’re always welcome to come back and the kids look forward to seeing them,’’ Hore said.
The Rosellas won all three grades last year and will be expected to dominate again.
However, the strugglers like Port Stephens Sharks have recruited strongly and Lakes United have signed an astute coach in former Knights NSW Cup mentor Rip Taylor.
‘‘Some of the other clubs have built up, which is good,’’ Hore said. ‘‘I think the top five will be fairly close, but the others might struggle.’’
CLUB LINK: Kurt Gidley with Wests president Wayne Hore at yesterday’s launch. Picture: Jonathan Carroll