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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Barry Toohey

TOOHEY'S NEWS: Adam O'Brien pays big price for loyalty to players

There's an old saying about insanity and doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.

In the case of Knights coach Adam O'Brien, the analogy can be applied to some of his team selections this season. Stick with the same non-performing, complacent, disinterested players who don't fear being axed week after week and expect them to eventually drag you out of the mire.

How well has that been working?

Ironically, the scuttlebutt from those who want to see the back of O'Brien after a forgettable season is that he has lost the dressingroom. That his playing group is talking behind his back and has stopped playing for him. It's an easy dart to throw without proper evidence when the team's season has spectacularly gone down the gurgler.

The fact is if O'Brien is guilty of anything, it's of being too loyal to the players who have let him and their teammates down and of being too conservative at the selection table.

He hasn't been willing often enough to make a tough call and send a strong message about the standards of performance required.

Conservative: Has Knights coach Adam O'Brien been guilty of being too loyal to under-performing players as Newcastle's premiership campaign threatens to hit rock bottom over the next few weeks. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

Privately, the coach will argue he doesn't have the depth of talent in the lower grades to regularly wield the axe and he's right - depth is a big issue.

He has said: "I'm not going to devalue the jersey by picking someone who hasn't earned the right to play NRL." But what about those players in the top grade who devalue the jersey by simply going through the motions without fear of reprisal?

Why not hand a young kid like Oryn Keeley or Max Bradbury a debut off the bench and throw them out there for 10 or 15 minutes? How will that burn them out?

Or what about rewarding a local guy like Ben Talty from reserve grade with a bench spot. I'm willing to bet he would give his absolute all for the jersey and the town if given the chance. The likes of Jacob Kiraz and Zac Hosking were let go by the club because they weren't regarded as future NRL players.

As they have shown, players can surprise you with the level they can handle when actually given a crack.

What a 'Klemity'

Will the farce surrounding the David Klemmer saga this week potentially cost the Knights the signature of Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks if he actually becomes available?

Both players are looked after by de-registered agent Isaac Moses, who was said to be ropable about the club's treatment of Klemmer.

The Knights deservedly copped plenty of flak from just about everyone involved in rugby league for the way the controversy blew up publicly.

There is no question the Knights prop was at fault but he has actually come out of it with his approval rating enhanced after his much-publicised run-in with trainer Hayden Knowles.

Not surprisingly, any future similar incidents involving players will be handled directly by new director of football Peter Parr and dealt with before potentially being brought to the attention of CEO Phil Gardner or the club's HR department.

New pathways boss

We told you weeks ago former Knights halfback Michael Dobson would be a new face in the Knights football department next season.

It now seems he will be one of the club's busiest employees as well.

We're hearing Dobson will not only coach the Knights' NSW Cup side and act as a transition coach in 2023, he will also fill the role of Head of Pathways. He'll replace Garth Brennan, who controversially parted ways with the club in June after just nine months. Dobson is currently the Colts coach and pathways boss of Queensland Cup club Wynnum Manly and would have been first grade coach next season had he not taken the Knights job.

Just how he juggles his workload remains to be seen. Given the importance of the pathways, there are those who believe it should be a stand-alone position.

Just where this all leaves current Cup coach Mark O'Meley remains to be seen.

Brodie battles to find form

No player has epitomised the Knights' ailing fortunes this season more than forward Brodie Jones.

Jones proved his utility value last season when he featured 22 times in the top grade and twice played a match-winning role to earn himself a new two-year-deal. But like a few of his teammates, his form has fallen off a cliff in 2022. So much so, he has only played 8 NRL games. In his past three, he has played 75 minutes all up but only touched the ball three times. He had one carry in 24 minutes against the Bulldogs last Sunday and in 28 minutes the previous week against the Roosters, didn't touch the footy at all.

Baz's Best: Backs lead the way

After one of the most dismal performances in the club's history against the Bulldogs last Sunday, it was a struggle to come up with anyone deserving of Baz's Best player of the year points before we settled on two outside backs and the consistent David Klemmer.

Rd 20: Knights v Bulldogs

3 Enari Tuala 2 Simi Sasagi 1 David Klemmer

Progress points: 21 David Klemmer 14 Dom Young 10 Kalyn Ponga 7 Tyson Frizell, Mitch Barnett, Kurt Mann, Anthony Milford, Edrick Lee 5 Chris Randall 4 Dane Gagai, Jake Clifford Enari Tuala 2 Jayden Brailey, Tex Hoy, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Simi Sasagi 1 Bradman Best, Phoenix Crossland.

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