NRL: Debut daze for Cessnock Goannas junior Brodie Jones after 'proudest moment of my life'

Knights rookie Brodie Jones cut a lonely figure running nearby his place at East Maitland Park.

Without any of his Newcastle teammates or support staff in sight Jones used the ground, home of local club the Griffins, to clock up the kilometres while the rugby league season, and indeed the world, were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a way of trying to keep fit throughout a period of self isolation and social distancing, not knowing when the restart button may, or may not, be pushed.

But while he hoped of playing again at some stage in 2020, NSW Cup had already been cancelled for the year so it seemed his only chance of getting back was an NRL debut.

That call up, something he started dreaming about as a Cessnock Goannas junior a decade ago, arrived unexpectedly on a weekend like no other and Jones described it as "the proudest moment of my life".

"If you'd told me I'd be playing [NRL] first round back after coronavirus, I wouldn't have believed you," the recently-turned 22-year-old said.

Jones was told he'd been promoted just 24 hours before kick-off, was out in the middle inside the opening 10 minutes because of consecutive injuries to key personnel and then remained on for the rest of the golden-point thriller, which saw the Knights fight back to earn a 14-all draw with Penrith at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday.

"It was probably the proudest moment of my life," he said.

"It was just crazy. How everything unfolded, how everything happened on game day and how it worked out to be the game that it was.

"I've never played in anything like that before and I don't think I'll be playing in something that special again any time soon."

Earlier in the week, Jones was set for a stint as 19th man with Knights regular Lachlan Fitzgibbon deemed fit to play after recovering from finger surgery.

All that shifted straight after Newcastle's captain's run at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday, learning from head coach Adam O'Brien he'd join fellow Hunter products Tex Hoy and Chris Randall as NRL debutants with Fitzgibbon suffering a hamstring strain.

"Fitz got hurt in the last 30 seconds so I didn't even realise that it happened," Jones said.

"We were all around listening to the debut songs [Hoy, Randall]. Once they finished singing, Adz [O'Brien] came over, grabbed me by the shirt and said 'mate you're playing'.

"I was just shocked. I didn't know what to say. I thought is this real?"

After contacting his family, partner and close friends, Jones found himself "trying to get his head around it" and, a few more nerves than normal the next morning, was boarding the team bus en route to Sydney's south west.

Come 4:05pm Jones took his place on the bench, but following game-ending blows to halfback Mitchell Pearce and hooker Connor Watson, he was in the thick of the action sooner than anticipated and continued unchanged for 82 minutes.

"I wasn't expecting to be playing 80-odd minutes. I suppose I was thinking 15-to-30 minutes depending on how things went," he said.

"Rory [Kostjasyn on the Knights coaching staff] gave me the call and said be ready. Within 15 seconds I was on and then it all went quick."

Jones handled the step up in grade, contributing 51 tackles and making 65 metres from six runs, and helped the Knights rebound from 14-0 down nearing half-time.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," he said.

"I was thrown in the deep end and I loved it.

"It was unreal. I was over the moon."

The NSW junior and Australian Schoolboys representative, who took up the sport after a brief soccer career with the Bellbird Bombers, started at the Knights in a summer squad aged 15 and has since worked his way through the ranks via Harold Matthews, SG Ball, Under 20s and most recently NSW Cup.

Jones has now followed in the NRL footsteps of fellow Cessnock players such as Joel Edwards, Billy Peden and most famously the Johns brothers, and gets another chance this Sunday when he lines up against joint ladder leaders and last year's grand finalists the Canberra Raiders at the same venue.

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