Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Barry Toohey

TOOHEY'S NEWS: The verdict on Adam O'Brien's coaching future

Wests Group chairman Owen Kilpatrick has torpedoed suggestions Adam O'Brien will be the next NRL coach with his head on the chopping block, declaring the Knights are not about to sack and pay out another coach.

Asked directly this week about O'Brien's future following the club's plummeting fortunes this season and the possibility of him being axed and paid out with more than two years left to run on his contract, Kilpatrick was emphatic: "Well, that won't be happening. We've got to stick with Adam, support him and work our way out of this."

The Knights have won just two of their past nine games and currently sit 12th on the ladder, six points adrift of the top eight.

Adam O'Brien

After coming off a thrashing at home to Penrith last Sunday, they face a must-win clash against the Raiders in Canberra tomorrow.

While CEO Phil Gardner is responsible for the day-to-day decision-making of both Wests and the Knights and is the club's chief powerbroker, the Wests board, headed by Kilpatrick, still rubber stamp the major decisions.

On the recommendation of Gardner, the board extended O'Brien's contract until the end of 2024 after he took the Knights to the play-offs in his rookie year in 2020. Sacking him now would result in a hefty payout.

They have already been burned once. They forked out somewhere between $400,000-$500,000 to pay out former coach Nathan Brown in 2019. Kilpatrick clearly doesn't have the appetite to do it again.

O'Brien will meet with the Wests board next week and will no doubt face a barrage of questions about the team and results, particularly at home where their record in recent times is nothing short of embarrassing.

"It's a regular monthly thing. Adam and Danny Buderus will come in and give us an over-view of what is happening," Kilpatrick said.

"No-one is happy with where we are at. We've struggled without Jayden Brailey, the spine's been topsy-turvey and we've had some players who just haven't aimed up.

"Like I said, it's very disappointing but we have to work our way out of it."

Rookie lesson

At the very least, the performances of two players at rival clubs last weekend should have provided food for thought for Adam O'Brien and the Knights heirachy.

The first was unheralded Grant Anderson, a local Central junior, who slipped through the cracks at the Knights and was forced to leave his home-town to chase his NRL dream.

With enough self-belief and courage to back himself despite the lack of Knights interest, he bobbed up at Melbourne and scored two tries in a slashing debut for the Storm in a win over the Sydney Roosters in front of a horde of family and friends at the SCG.

Two days after Anderson's emotional heroics, Jacob Kiraz, playing on the wing for the Bulldogs, scored a try and ran for 229 metres for the Dogs in their upset thrashing of Parramatta.

Just prior to the start of the season, Kiraz was in the Knights top 30 squad but was off-loaded to the Dogs, presumably because he wasn't considered good enough to play at NRL level.

He's now played five top grade games and has already earned a new two year deal.

In Anderson's case, it's a clear indication the Knights still haven't got their coaching structures right with no development coach in place to help track and transition players from the lower grades into first grade.

Anderson played juniors for the Knights and was set to play NSW Cup before COVID struck in 2020 shutting the comp down. He never heard from the club again.

Kiraz is a prime example of what can happen when a rookie is given a crack at the big time, even when you may not think he is up to it.

The Sydney Roosters have debuted 11 players since the start of the 2021 season. Despite an horrendous injury run, in the same period, the Knights have debuted five.

O'Brien spoke of 'ingrained' issues after the Panthers loss. A big part of that has been under-performing players not fearing for their spots in the top grade.

O'Brien must change that.

Gags must tackle form dip

If his name wasn't Dane Gagai and he wasn't a Queensland State of Origin veteran, would he be in the Knights side to meet the Raiders in Canberra tomorrow on recent form?

At the very least, Gagai must be causing real concerns for coach Adam O'Brien.

He was dynamic earlier in the season and can be a real threat with the footy. But defensively in the centres, he is a liability. Against Penrith last weekend, he attempted 14 tackles and missed 10 of them.

In Origin I, he struggled to contain Jack Wighton and you can bet the Raiders will be running plenty of traffic his way in Canberra tomorrow.

Baz's Best

Giant English winger Dom Young has jumped out of the pack in a bid to try and reel in runaway leader David Klemmer in Baz's Best player of the year standings. Young polled maximum points in his side's big loss to Penrith last Sunday to move to within 5 points of Klemmer, who picked up a point.

Rd 14: Knights v Panthers

3 Dom Young 2 Edrick Lee 1 David Klemmer

Progress points: 15 David Klemmer 10 Dom Young 7 Tyson Frizell 6 Kalyn Ponga 5 Chris Randall, Kurt Mann 4 Dane Gagai, Jake Clifford, Mitch Barnett. 3 Anthony Milford 2 Tex Hoy, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Enari Tuala, Edrick Lee 1 Bradman Best.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.