Current Queensland coach Kevin Walters was also expected to be in contention, but ruled himself out of the race on Tuesday night. Walters had been at the Knights in the past in a part-time coaching capacity under Wayne Bennett.
There is also a host of ex-NRL coaches without a job headed by the likes of Anthony Griffin, Shane Flanagan, Geoff Toovey, Trent Barrett and Garth Brennan whose names will no doubt be bandied about in the coming weeks.
Griffin was on the Knights’ short-list back in late 2015 and was interviewed when Brown was appointed following the sacking of Rick Stone. He is understood to have withdrawn from the race when offered the job at Penrith.
That seems certain to go against him. Flanagan’s coaching future is clouded, with the former Sharks mentor still deregistered by the NRL and given no indication of when he will be allowed to resume his career.
Fitzgibbon is a former Roosters premiership winner who played 19 Tests for Australia and coached NSW Country Origin on two occasions. He is currently on the Roosters staff under Trent Robinson and is regarded as a future NRL coach.
The same goes for O’Brien, who spent 12 years under Craig Bellamy at Melbourne Storm before linking with the Roosters as their attacking coach this year and already has support for the Knights job. So highly regarded is O’Brien in Melbourne, he was awarded life membership of the Storm before he departed for Sydney.
News of Brown’s departure took league circles by surprise yesterday. Just four weeks ago, Newcastle CEO Philip Gardner said Brown would continue in his role next year. But, on Tuesday, he was announcing the coach’s exit at the end of the season.
“Nathan will go down as one of the most important coaches in Knights’ history,” Gardner said. “When he joined our club ahead of the 2016 season, it was at its lowest ebb. The sheer scale of the task he was faced with was monumental. It would have broken a lesser man.
“Put simply, it would be wrong to measure his contribution to the Knights in wins and losses alone. Nathan shaped our roster as he did our club. He once again made Newcastle a place that players wanted to not just play in, but play for.”
Brown said he was proud of his accomplishments after transforming the club from cellar dwellers to finals contenders.
“My main job was to come here and put the club back together,” Brown said. “It’s been a tough but enjoyable job. I’ve met lots of great people and I feel the club is far better off for me coming here.”
The Knights have lost seven of their past nine to sit in 10th spot and look set to miss the finals.