The Newcastle Knights and their coach Adam O’Brien are at a crossroads after a horror season that could see them go from the finals to the wooden spoon in one year.
The Knights have the worst defensive record in the NRL and their attack is not much better with the pressure ramping up on O’Brien to keep his job amid turmoil and player unrest at the club.
Paul Kent believes the recent changes to the club’s football department is evidence that the Knights desperately need to change the way they operate in time for next season.
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“This is a touchstone moment for Adam O’Brien,” Kent said on NRL 360.
“His career now is at a tipping point. After the season they have had where they have shown no improvement on the two previous seasons. In fact they have gone backwards.
“You have got player unrest. You have got a club that is trying to turn things around.
“Phil Gardner has moved himself away from much of the football operation, which he needed to do because he was inexperienced and after putting his toe in the water for 18 months he failed to come up with what they need.
“They have got a rookie football manager in Danny Buderus, who has suddenly been pushed sideways to bring in Peter Parr. They are trying to start the turnaround.
“Adam O’Brien has realized that he is either part of the solution or part of the problem and it starts now.”
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Phil Rothfield revealed O’Brien admitted he has eight weeks next season to turn things around, but Kent believes that might be generous, given their current predicament.
“Buzz said he has six to eight weeks next year,” Kent said.
“I don’t think he has got that because if the Knights find out eight weeks into next season that they have made a blue, then next season has gone as well.
“Adam O’Brien touched on in that press conference that their summer training was not up to speed this year as it should have been.
“He said, that is the one thing he would like to get in order going into next season. That’s where it starts for them next season. It begins for him now.”
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Kent accused the Knights of being too soft on their players in the wake of the decision to reprimand David Klemmer.
“It began it appears today with David Klemmer and let’s talk about player discipline and how players buy into what is going on at teams,” Kent said.
“David Klemmer is known for not wanting to go off the field. Let’s cop that. It happened at Canterbury. It has happened before.
“But we talk about Brandon Smith and what Melbourne have done to him since he got sin-binned and suspended a couple of weeks back and how they drive their discipline, which Adam O’Brien has been aware of.
“I think for too long up there he has been running a soft ship and they basically have been taking the mickey out of him, so I think that is where it starts.”
The Daily Telegraph’s Dave Riccio agreed O’Brien’s future is on thin ice, given they are unlikely to win another game in 2022, with the wooden spoon a real possibility.
“I think Adam’s coaching career is right on the precipice,” Riccio said.
“Don’t forget this Newcastle Knights side can still get the wooden spoon. They play the Tigers this weekend.
“If they lose to the Tigers you can bet your bottom dollar the heat will be turned up.
“They then play the Broncos away. They play the Raiders at home. The Titans away and they finish with the Sharks at home.
“I haven’t got the Knights winning any of those games.”
Kent believes the introduction of Parr as the club’s director of football means that Phil Gardner will no longer have the final say on O’Brien’s future.
“Gardner has no longer got the say,” Kent said.
“Parr will have the say. Parr will sit there over summer and if he decides things aren’t looking the way they need to look, he can still find himself a coach.
“He has got trainers and strength and conditioning coaches in from the Roosters and the Panthers and everywhere else. They are in good hands there.”
Riccio agreed the board will decide who the long-term coach will be based on a recommendation from Parr.
“I think it will come down to the board,” Riccio said.
“I think Peter Parr has been put there for a reason. Not only for his experience and know how, but I believe he can make a tough call.
“And Gardner can remove himself from what has been a car crash since he got there.”
In light of O’Brien’s comments that he has seen what success looks like at the Storm and the Roosters, Kent believes it is time for less talk and more action at the Knights.
“At some point you have got to start living the standard and not talking the standard,” Kent said.
“I think for too long at Newcastle they talk about what they want to do.
“It has been going on for too long where they just basically pull the shades down over everybody’s eyes and say, don’t worry about us we are going OK, when in fact they are not doing what Newcastle are known for, which is playing tough, hard football and being constantly competitive.”