When Alex McKinnon first welcomed Dom Young to Australia, he was struck by the sheer size of his first significant international recruit. Back then, Young was not just McKinnon’s first major acquisition for the Newcastle Knights, but the youngster who lived in the granny flat at the back of McKinnon’s property.
Yet, what stood out most to McKinnon, a former Knights recruitment manager, was his concern that the Knights made a misjudgment by positioning the towering, dreadlocked Englishman on the wing instead of his preferred spot in the centres.
“You sign a player and you have hopes of what someone could be,” McKinnon recounted, “I was so nervous. I am his visa sponsor and it was my first time in this role, and I thought, I’m just going to take a risk.”
The worry wasn’t unwarranted. Young hadn’t excelled in catching high balls nor was he demonstrating the tryscoring prowess that McKinnon believed he possessed. Yet, McKinnon conceded, “His ability to adapt and evolve into the player he is, finishing how he does now is incredible. That all comes through hard work. His skills in the air and put-downs is all from practice.”
It all culminated on a spectacular Saturday night when Young set a new record for the most tries by a Newcastle player in a single season with one of the most sensational four-pointers of the NRL era. In a showcase of athleticism, Young, caught in a Mat Feagai tackle, managed to adjust his body and engaged his right arm to keep the ball in his grip and reach the Netstrata Jubilee Stadium turf.
McKinnon had been mightily impressed by Young’s physical prowess when he first arrived in Australia after just two Super League matches. “I’ve watched a lot of football and been around a lot of good players, but I’d never seen someone so athletic when I saw him,” he stated, “The speed and the shape… it’s only about 20 per cent of what makes him a valuable player, though.”
McKinnon was confident Young wasn’t in Australia just for leisure. He praised the impact of coach Adam O’Brien and the coaching staff on Young’s development and professionalism.
Young astonishingly notched his 22nd and 23rd tries in Newcastle’s comprehensive win over the Dragons in a season that saw him spend some time in reserve grade. Although set to join the Roosters the following season, he has already earned plaudits for his stunning skills in acrobatic try-scoring, putting him at the top of the list for best try of the season.