Newcastle Knights CEO Phil Gardner opens up about the Nathan Brown departure


“We went with something different, particularly coming off three wooden spoons that this was a way to find out where we are as a club. Certainly, the traditional way to write and manage contracts is the better way to go. It gives the coach more certainty, it gives the club more certainty and the players know when that there is that period of tenure that it’s much simpler to then come to an amicable conclusion in rugby league.

The break-up

It was hoped the announcement of Brown’s departure at season’s end would spark a run to the finals. Instead, the Knights produced the worst performance of the season against the Tigers, fast-tracking Brown’s departure. During the fallout, the machinations behind the decision have been analysed. There have been reports that recruitment boss Troy Pezet had been sounding out potential successors for Brown before the coach walked and that powerbrokers Brian Canavan and John Quayle were kept out of the loop.

“Troy Pezet is in player recruitment,” Gardner said. “He talks to all of the agents all the time.

“In relation to coaches, there is only one person they can talk to. That’s me. I’ve not had any meetings with any coaches before Nathan told me (he was leaving) last week.

As to suggestions Canavan and Quayle were sidelined, Gardner said: “You won’t see Brian say that I haven’t consulted with him, I talk to him all the time.

“John Quayle is one of the most respected administrators this game has ever seen. He would never compromise himself over his relationship with the Roosters or the Knights.

“For anyone to question his integrity or say he’s left out of the loop don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Kalyn Ponga

Ponga is contracted to Newcastle for the next two years, but it hasn’t stopped speculation about his future. The star pivot is tipped to part company with his agent and there have been suggestions Gardner has been steering him towards Isaac Moses, the manager of O’Brien.

“If we could extend Kalyn, we would do it today,” Gardner said.

“I found it laughable that Andre (Kalyn’s father) would take any notice of me about who he should or shouldn’t manage him. He will do the right thing by his son.

“The thing for Kalyn is that it won’t be about money. He is a winner, he wants to be in a club that is a chance to win. I know he will stay in Newcastle for less money than would be offered anywhere else. For us to keep Kalyn, he is going to have to know that we have a roster together and a system in which he can win. That is more important than money.”

Last drinks

Brown said that perhaps his greatest achievement during his Newcastle tenure was curbing a disturbing drinking culture. Details of a fight between forward Jacob Saifiti and the brother of Roosters captain Boyd Cordner have been revealed in court just as the club prepares for another Mad Monday.

“This club, when (Wests) came into it two years ago, had huge issues with player behaviour,” Gardner said.

Nathan Brown’s time at the helm of the Knights is over.Credit:Marina Neil

“We’ve done everything we can and we’re on the record with fining players more than anyone else in history has done.

“But it’s a work in progress and we all stop breathing as we head in to Mad Monday. We’re dealing with young men, we try as hard as we can and we know we will have other issues. We’re attempting to do the best we can and have come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Brown’s successor

Gardner revealed that Brown has provided input into who he thinks should succeed him.

“He’s told me exactly who he thinks it should be,” he said.

“He thinks the two good systems are out there … and (we should) bring someone in with in-depth knowledge of those systems would be a real positive for our club. That’s Nathan’s view.”

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Asked about O’Brien, who has worked in the Melbourne and Roosters systems Brown is alluding to, Gardner said: “Adam is certainly very highly regarded. When you look at any of the coaching appointments made in the last 12-18 months, he’s been top of the list. We need to get someone who fits Newcastle, we need to make sure the coach for us can deliver the success the town craves.”

Regrets? A few…

If he could do it all again, Gardner would do things differently.

“I wish I had the conversation with Nathan before he told his coaches and players that he was coming in to resign,” Gardner said.

“I wish I’d had a more upfront conversation with him every week for the last 10 weeks. In the last 10 weeks we have lost eight games and only won two. That spiralled down and each week we kept thinking ‘we’ll win this week’. And we didn’t and we didn’t and we didn’t.

“We’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned a lot. I’ll handle things differently and I’ll put my hand up for the mistakes I’ve made.

“We’ll change what we need to change.”

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