In early 2005 the Newcastle Knights announced the signing of Milton Thaiday to a two year deal. Rugby fans were aware of who Milton was, and those that follow the tabloids were also aware of his long battle against alcohol. Thaiday, a former NSW Waratah star, had quit Union after a long battle with alcohol abuse.
Many immediately dismissed him as a ?rugby reject? and a risky signing given his history of alcoholism. Obviously the Newcastle Knights didn?t think this way.
It all started when Newcastle coach Michael Hagan received a call from respected Newcastle media personality Brett Keeble about the talent and potential he saw in Thaiday having seen him play in a country rugby league game. Within a week Hagan invited Thaiday to train with his premier league side. One week was all it was needed for the club to see the enormous potential in Thaiday and offer him a contract.
Having only played league for 6 months Thaiday used his first few weeks to find his feet and learn the rules, impatient fans who watched his first few games in premier league dismissed him as a bad signing that was too small and offered very little.
Thaiday debuted for the Knights in rd 10 against the eventual premiers the Wests Tigers. Newcastle were in the middle of their worst start to a season ever having loss their first 9 games. Many fans expected big things of this ?new Matty Bowen?.
While the Knights would end up losing 32-16 to the Tigers, Thaiday showcased his lighting speed, acceleration and footwork in a great debut that also included a great try. A star was born.
The Knights season slipped deeper and deeper into despair but with Thaiday quickly finding his feet there was hope for a revival. It was of no surprise to Newcastle fans that Thaiday, along with Andrew Johns, was the star in Newcastle?s eventual break through win against the Penrith Panthers in round 16. Thaiday scored a sensational try and had a hand in another.
Newcastle would go on to win 8 of their last 11 games with Thaiday monumental and always one of the best players on field. Just weeks before Thaiday was playing local club league, now he was a fan favourite amongst the most passionate fan base in the NRL. For a man who had once often doubted his ability to beat his alcohol abuse and keep his family this must have been a dream come true.
Coming into season 2006 many people rated Thaiday as Newcastle?s best attacking weapon and predicted a further improved Thaiday thanks to a full off season of training. They were to be proven right. Newcastle, fancied as a dark horse going into season 2006, were the team to explode out of the blocks and assert favouritism over the 2006 premiership early on.
To put it simply, Thaiday was electric and the competitions form player from the word go. As Newcastle went on an early season point scoring blitz including a 70-32 annihilation of Canberra, a 46-22 belting of the Bulldogs and a 54-6 smashing of the Dragons Thaiday was either scoring the try, setting up the try or having a hand in a try. Newcastle looked near unbeatable early on and a lot of that was due to Thaiday?s kick returns and line breaking ability.
Such was his form that many predicted an Origin jersey lie in wait. Then his, and Newcastle?s as it turned out, season took a turn for the worst. Thaiday rolled his ankle late in the second half in Newcastle?s round 8 clash with South Sydney. The diagnosis was torn ligaments that would see Thaiday out for between 6 and 10 weeks.
In the coming weeks Newcastle early season dominance would become nothing but a memory for Knights fans as their team seemed to slip in intensity with every game. It wasn?t long before Knights fans realised just how vital Milton is to the Knights. Newcastle scored a lot more points in the 7 games Thaiday played then in the 10 that he didn?t. In fact Newcastle had enjoyed an incredible winning run with Thaiday available - they had won 13 of their last 18 games with Thaiday at Fullback.
Perhaps this is why leading up to a make or break game for a Newcastle side who?s season has turned sour so quickly Newcastle fans when reading the match game program can be heard declaring ?Thank god it?s Thaiday!?