Try as he might try, Alex McKinnon couldn't hold back the emotion.

As a near-capacity Hunter Stadium chanted his name, he wiped away the tears.

For the first time since suffering a spinal injury, McKinnon was back in the rugby league heartland for yesterday's Newcastle-Gold Coast round-19 NRL fixture, the centrepiece of the Rise For Alex Round.

Flanked by Knights skipper Kurt Gidley and Titans captain Nate Myles, McKinnon led the sides on to Hunter Stadium from his wheelchair, to the cheers of a largely partisan crowd as the game they call the greatest of all lived up to its billing.


"I didn't really know how I was going to handle it, to tell you the truth," McKinnon said at halftime after addressing the crowd.

"It was pretty full-on. I was trying to hold everything back, but at the end of the day I suppose my true self came out and there were a few tears - but you can't help that, can you?

"I'm very overwhelmed by the support. I'm very thankful.

"The situation just shows that everyone comes out, that they care. Maybe they have been touched by what has been going on."

Four months after receiving the spinal injury against Melbourne in round three, McKinnon was finally home.

"It's great to be back in Newcastle. I hope it helps the recovery," he said.

"Everyone's support does hit home for me."

More than 100,000 fans have streamed thought the turnstiles for the Rise For Alex round with more than $1 million expected to be raised towards the player's recovery.