A Fan's Tribute To The Coal Miner Who Became A Cult Hero

He only played 60 games. He scored just 23 tries. He never won a Premiership or a Dally M or probably even a chook raffle.

But as a Newcastle Knights fan, Nathan Ross was one of my favourite players of the last decade. Here's why.

Ross, the 30-year-old winger who retired this week after not recovering from groin surgery, played like he gave a sh-t.

He played old school footy. He was gutsy and gritty. Nathan Ross was a player you could relate to. Anyone who was never the most talented but gave their all could relate to him.

It was the look on his face as he charged toward the line. The determination to perform for the badge on his chest, not the name on his back.

Too often these days in all sports, people measure the greats by how much they scored or how far they ran or how many tackles they made.

There is no metric that could describe Ross. He just cared.

Image: Getty Images

Ross was a coal miner, carving out a career in the lower leagues of rugby league. He earned himself a pre-season with the Knights' first-grade team at the end of 2013, but coach Wayne Bennett wasn't a fan.

Working 14-hour night shifts before training, he was told by Bennett he would never make it in the NRL.

“I did enough to get a pre-season with the Knights and halfway through that pre-season... the greatest coach of all time gave me a tap on the shoulder and said I’d never be an NRL player,” Ross told The Locker Room podcast in 2016.

In 2014, he was named the fullback of the year in the NSW Cup. When Bennett left the Knights at the end of the year, Ross grabbed a contract with the first-grade team.

Image: Getty Images

And we Novocastrians are so glad he did. Making his NRL debut at 27, he would go on to become a cult hero almost overnight.

Ross was a reminder of everything we fans go to the game for. Even in the years we were winning the spoon, you knew he’d put in, and that he’d be entertaining while doing it.

I remember sitting in the East Grandstand at McDonald Jones Stadium during the 2016 Round 16 clash with the Dragons. We got beaten 30-18. It was a miserable day in a miserable season.

But in a moment of brilliance, Ross defied the mood of the day, not to mention the laws of gravity, cartwheeling over the defence and the corner post to put the ball down for a try.

It was magical, it was a moment that is a reminder of why we love this game, and it was a glimmer of hope in a period that was incredibly bleak for the club.

The best thing about supporting a club like the Knights is that the whole city gets behind a player. And the city sure did get behind Ross.

As a Knights fan, I'm disappointed he won't be part of the revival. For his first two seasons he was a wooden spooner, and last year his season ended even earlier than the Knights -- who again missed the finals.

Image: Getty Images

Nathan Ross may only be a blip on the timeline of the Knights. He may not hold any records. He'll never have a stand named after him like Joey Johns.

But we Novocastrians will miss the excitement and passion the Ross Dog never failed to deliver.