Marketo: Playing For McKinnon
By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
This weekend the Knights and the Dragons will fight it out for the Alex McKinnon Cup in honour of the 24-year-old whose career was cut horribly short three seasons ago.
McKinnon was left a quadriplegic in the 2014 incident with his two former NRL clubs the Dragons and Knights since introducing the Cup to celebrate McKinnon's short rugby league legacy.
Dragons forward Jake Marketo said his team talked about playing in McKinnon's honour prior to their Captains' Run on Friday and said it makes the game extra meaningful as they fight to keep in touch with the top eight.
Marketo lived with McKinnon in Wollongong earlier in their careers at the Dragons and was lucky enough to play alongside the Aberdeen Tigers junior when he made his NRL debut in 2011.
"Alex McKinnon is a close mate of mine," Marketo told NRL.com. "He's somebody I hold pretty close to my heart. I speak to him when I can and he's going pretty well at the moment so it'll be good to hopefully see him at the game.
"He's a pretty incredible person. I'm lucky enough to have him in my life and to know him for as long as I have. He's a very positive person and you can tell that by what he's been through.
"He has a beautiful partner in Teigan, a great support base and he's coming along well. Hopefully he can reach his goal of being able to walk Teigan down the aisle."
Dragons back-rower Tyson Frizell never played alongside McKinnon but always loved coming up against him in the under-20s.
Then at the Sharks, Frizell said McKinnon and now-teammate Jack de Belin were two players he enjoyed facing the most, which he hopes to translate into a good performance on Saturday afternoon.
"I played a lot of footy against Alex in the 20s and that and he was definitely someone I loved playing against. He was a rock solid player and every time I played the Dragons it was usually him and Jack de Belin that I'd want to go after," Frizell said.
"I've had a laugh about it with Jack previously about them two being such dominant players coming through the ranks. Even when Alex started playing first grade you could see he was a star in the making.
"Against Newcastle we want to put in a good performance and show Alex some respect by doing that."
Frizell confirmed he would be right to face the Knights just three days after making his State of Origin debut for New South Wales, while Marketo said fullback Josh Dugan will be a late inclusion.
"Josh is ready to go. He'll be at fullback so we're pretty much back to full strength now," Marketo said.
"It'll be good to get out there all together. We'd like to be sitting a little bit better as a team but we'll be ready to rip in."
Social media was abuzz recently over a potential swap deal between the Dragons and Knights in regards to Tariq Sims's arrival at St George Illawarra last week.
Marketo's name was one thrown out there as a potential Knights signing, though the 27-year-old said people shouldn't always believe what they read.
"Seeing it on Facebook was the first I had heard of it," he said. "It was all rumours. Tariq's here now. I'm still here so that's the end of that."