In the end, Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown did himself out of a job


They were the worst NRL team of this decade.

You can’t underestimate the job Brown – who announced on Wednesday he was leaving at the end of the season – had in front of him when he walked in at the end of 2015. They had just won the spoon – and Brown decided the only was way down.

Like a knock down, rebuild of a dilapidated house, he cleaned it out and started again. He was prepared for things to be worse before they got better. But, slowly, the improvements came.

Fronting up: Nathan Brown addresses the media with Knights boss Phil Gardner on Wednesday morning after revealing he would be stepping down at the end of the season.Credit:Marina Neil

They won the spoon again in 2017 – to make it three in a row – but 2018 had some green shoots and they clawed their way to 11th.

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With Klemmer joining Ponga and Pearce this year, the finals were on the agenda. Not an unrealistic goal.

But, as happens in many businesses where CEOs move on, Brown is moving on after all the hard yards. And three years in a position like that is about par.

If he is to move to another NRL head coaching job, Brown has work to do to smooth out some rough edges.

A blue-collar kind of guy, Brown had his faults. And some of them would not have gone down well at board level.

His “small head, big head” jibe at Wayne Bennett last year showed immaturity, despite having been around for years.

This season, after a rousing victory over the Sharks in round one, he gave it to Paul Gallen after the match. In previous seasons, Gallen criticised the Knights for being “soft” up front because, in Gallen’s words, “they were”. They did win three spoons in a row after all.

Strange move: Moving Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth was an odd move by Nathan Brown.

Strange move: Moving Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth was an odd move by Nathan Brown.Credit:AAP

Brown, emboldened by one win, said he’d “like to know what Gal thinks now”.

Maybe he should have asked Gallen the same question after round six, because by then the Knights had lost five straight.

His tempestuous axing of Jesse Ramien was odd. Admitting he made errors with his handling of his Origin players after the series was odd. His decision to move Ponga to five-eighth was odd.

These things mount up.

Boards are looking for coaches who can handle the players, drive a winning culture and, ultimately, win. They are also looking for steady hands on the wheel.

They are looking for the sort of temperament that can handle the relentless week in, week out nature of NRL coaching. Warts and all.

It counted against Kevin Walters on the Gold Coast. His over-emotive press conferences full of buzzwords didn’t play out well. Clubs don’t need it.

Brown’s outbursts were equally unsettling for boards looking to the future.

On his way: Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie has announced he will step down in February.

On his way: Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie has announced he will step down in February.Credit:AAP

Less should be more for the NRL

When Peter Beattie began his water-treading tenure as Australian Rugby League Commission chairman, he said his main aim was expansion.

“As I’ve consistently said, if we don’t grow our game, if we don’t expand, then frankly we die,” he said.

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He was a million to one to pull that off and 18 months later he’s sailing off into the sunset.

The game in its current state has neither the will nor the firepower to expand – or to axe a team and set up a new one.

In February, when Peter V’Landys inevitably takes over as the new chairman, his No.1 goal should be the opposite, reduction.

The season is too long. At least two matches too long.

Surely 22 matches is enough to sort out the best from the rest? Twenty-four games turns into a kind of torture by the time we get to where we are this weekend.

That was evident three long weeks ago. Sitting at the SCG watching the soulless Gold Coast Titans get lapped by the Roosters, who scored tries for fun, my overwhelming thought was: “These Titans blokes have got five matches to go before this torture ends.”

Of course, V’Landys would need a will of steel to do this. The broadcast deal is built around content, which is why we ended up with so many rounds. But the value of each match at this time of year is reduced as teams wish the finish line was upon them and they can dust of the Mad Monday fancy dress outfits.

The NFL is the best model. Despite all the possibilities of untold riches thrown at them over the years, the competition stuck to the format of 16 home and away matches each season for the past four decades (it was previously 14).

That’s only eight home matches each, putting an amazing premium on each game, not just in ticket sales, but for the importance of the outcome.

There are no Penrith Panthers or Newcastle Knights peeling off five and seven-match losing streaks, but remaining in finals contention.

Teams like that can’t win it all anyway so why bother prolonging the agony for everyone?

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