DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: Knights coach Nathan Brown talks tactics with Ken Sio last season. The winger has signed for Salford in Super League. Picture: Jonathan CarrollSOMETIMES it seems the only certainty in rugby league is uncertainty.
Just a few months ago, for instance, Craig Bellamy was pondering a massive offer to replace Wayne Bennett as Brisbane’s coach.
At about the same time, speculation was mounting that Sydney Roosters were planning to ditch Trent Robinson and sign Ivan and Nathan Cleary in a remarkable package deal.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is almost unthinkable that either scenario was even a talking point.
Bellamy re-signed with Melbourne and now looks certain to spend his entire first-grade coaching career at the club he has fashioned in his own image.
Likewise Robinson, who has now steered the Chooks to two premierships in six seasons and, having recently agreed to a new four-year deal, won’t be departingBondi Junction any time soon.
A host of other clubs, however, are in a state of flux.
Trent Barrett has clearly reached his use-by date at Manly, and all the indications are that Des Hasler will make a dramatic return to Brookvale.
Ivan Cleary has maintained he will honour the remaining two years of his contract with Wests Tigers, although he is at short odds to be back at Penrith before the start of next season.
Bennett, unable to convince Brisbane’s officials that he was worth retaining beyond the end of 2019, was touted as the likely candidate to replace Cleary at the Tigers. The old fox has since reportedlyhad second thoughts and reassured Brisbane’s players he is committed to them for one more campaign.
That could well change, however, if the Broncos were to secure the signature of South Sydney’s rookie coach Anthony Seibold for 2020 and beyond.
If the Rabbitohs were to lose Seibold, would they be willing to wait 12 months to replace him –or would it be in their interests to grant an early release and instal a replacement?
It’s all as clear as mud, andgiven thatmost clubs are about to kick off pre-season training inside the next few weeks, far from ideal.
At the Knights, there has also been significant upheaval and uncertainty, but in their situation it does not surround the head-coaching position.
Nathan Brown was re-signed last season on a uniqueopen-ended contract, at which point Wests Group/Knights chief executive Phil Gardner declared: “We think thatNathanis a really good fit for us,andwe like the idea of having a long-term coach …there’s no great club that has ever been built on continual changes of coaching staff.
“You’re not going to build any great organisation without stability.
“You’ve got to build that by creating an environment that fosters it,andhopefully the communityandour fans will be rewarded with some great results, over time.”
While Brown is entitled to feel relatively comfortable about his job security, that has not been the case for a host of Newcastle players and staff.
Since the start of last season, the Knights have parted company with Brown’s assistant coach, Mick Potter, their NSW Cup coach, Simon Woolford, under-20s coach Todd Lowrie, physical-performance manager Tony Ayoub, strength coach Luke Portese,football manager Darren Mooney andhead physiotherapist Travis Maude.
As for the game-day ball boys, I’m not quite sure, but they are entitled to be nervous.
Meanwhile, another cleanout of the playing ranks is under way.
Brock Lamb (Roosters) and Nick Meaney and Jack Cogger (both Canterbury) signed with rival clubs before last season finished.Luke Yates and Cory Denniss have since followed them out the back door, while Ken Sio –Newcastle’s top tryscorer in 2018 –has joined Salford after receiving what his manager described as a “shitty” and “pathetic” offer from the Knights.
Moreover, the future of two players under contract for two more seasons, Danny Levi and Nathan Ross, hasapparently been clouded by suggestions that the Knights are willing to release them.
As it stands, the Knights still need six players to fill their 30-man roster for next season, which will be eightif Levi and Ross were to leave.
Looking at the glass half-full, the Knights have already recruitedCronulla duo Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee, Tim Glasby (Melbourne) and Mason Lino (Warriors), and more than $2 million of their salary cap remains unspent, which equates to possibly the largest war chestof any club in the NRL.
That leaves them in a strong position to pounce on any suitable players who belatedly become available, as occurred almost 12 months ago when Mitchell Pearce decided to leave the Roosters.
By the start of next season, it could be that Brown has played his cards shrewdly and secured imports capable of transforming the Knights, who finished 11ththis year, into play-off contenders.
It could also be that the wholesale makeover of support staff pays dividends and improves Newcastle’s players physically and technically, both individually and as a group.
But at this pointthe only thing that can be said with any confidenceabout the Knights in 2019 is that they are an unknown quantity.
Like so many of their rivals, how they will perform is anyone’s guess.