HE is having trouble convincing disgruntled Newcastle fans and the general rugby league community, but coach Wayne Bennett is trying to transform the Knights with the same blueprint he used to build the Broncos into a perennial NRL superpower.
Bennett returns home tomorrow for Newcastle’s game against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.
Both teams will strive to end three-game losing streaks but the Broncos, who are second on 16 points heading into this weekend’s 13th round, are in better shape than the 11th-placed Knights (10).
Bennett established himself as the stand-out coach of his generation when he built a dynasty in Brisbane, guiding the Broncos to six premierships from as many grand final appearances from their 1988 foundation year until he left at the end of 2008 to coach St George Illawarra.
The former Queensland and Australian mentor only enhanced his reputation at the Dragons by delivering them the 2010 title, ending a 31-year drought for the St George half of the joint venture, and similar results were expected when he took the reins at the Knights this year.
Bennett has stressed since he arrived in Newcastle that he was working on a four-year plan, rather than chasing a quick fix and instant success, but the blue-and-red faithful are not enjoying his philosophy of short-term pain to achieve long-term gain.
Some critics have second guessed his decision to recruit senior internationals Danny Buderus and Timana Tahu, and high-profile State of Origin and Australian representatives Darius Boyd and Kade Snowden, but Bennett insists he knows what he is doing.
Utility back Dane Gagai, signed on Monday after being released by the Broncos last month, is unlikely to play in any grade this weekend but Bennett said the 21-year-old former Junior Kangaroos representative had the potential to become a Newcastle fan favourite for a decade.
‘‘This guy’s a rare talent,’’ Bennett told the Herald on Monday. ‘‘That’s why we’ve brought him here, because he can bring something that I can’t coach, and he can bring something the fans want to watch, and that’s God-given.’’
Bennett said Gagai was one of several young players the Knights have signed, or re-signed in recent weeks, to be introduced to the NRL squad in the next 12 to 18 months.
Aberdeen junior Alex McKinnon, who has played every NRL game this season, wants to be a Knight for life after following Bennett from the Dragons this year.
Prop Robbie Rochow, an East Maitland product who joined the Knights this year after two seasons in Melbourne, signed a contract extension on Monday until the end of 2014.
A stand-out in NSW Cup earlier this season, Rochow would have almost certainly been called into the senior squad in the past few weeks but has been sidelined with a lower-back injury.
‘‘We’ve got young Alex McKinnon here, who will hopefully be a 12-year or 14-year player here now, we’ve got Korbin Sims here and we all have high expectations for him, plus there’s a host of young boys in the under 20s who are playing quite good football,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘We’ve got Will Smith, who we just re-signed, Robbie Rochow playing NSW Cup, Kurt Mann, and there’s another bunch of kids there.
‘‘The other kid I’ve got a big rap on is Peter Mata’utia but he got a bad injury in the pre-season and he’s been months behind everybody, and he’s just starting to find a bit of form now.
‘‘His brother Chanel’s there too. You’ve got to have your youth and you’ve got to have them coming through, but you’ve got to have older players there as well.
‘‘We built the Broncos on that. We built the Broncos on the Wally Lewises and Gene Mileses and Greg Dowlings, who were at the end of their footy careers, and we introduced the Andrew Gees, and the Brad Thorns and the Allan Langers and the Steve Renoufs.’’