RUGBY league guru Phil Gould believes it is only a matter of time before Penrith under-20s mentor Garth Brennan graduates to the NRL coaching ranks.
Gould’s decision to sign the former Knights lower-grade player and coach to a two-year deal has been vindicated as Brennan has steered the young Panthers to the National Youth Cup finals, coached NSW under18s in June, and on Tuesday he was named NYC coach of the year.
Under Brennan’s guidance, the Knights qualified for their first NYC finals series last year, only to be eliminated 54-6 by eventual premiers the Warriors in the opening round, but by then he had already signed a two-year deal to join the Panthers.
The Knights told Brennan in June last year that incoming coach Wayne Bennett had appointed Michael Crawley to replace him. Though he was offered a junior development and education position at the Knights, Brennan wanted to keep coaching and jumped at the chance to join Gould, Penrith’s general manager of football, and NRL coach Ivan Cleary.
Matthew Johns recommended Brennan to Gould, and the most successful coach in NSW Origin history backed the former Knights, NSW and Australian playmaker’s judgment.
‘‘Garth Brennan is a champion bloke, a quality NRL coach in the making, and he has added a lot to our club, so this award is thoroughly deserved,’’ Gould told the Newcastle Herald.
‘‘He’s a very hard-working coach, and he spends countless hours working on the players and their development.
‘‘He’s a wonderful development coach with the young fellows coming through. He gives them great discipline, and he has a great knowledge of the game.
‘‘He’s able to coach not only knowledge but skill into his players. He’s been a wonderful acquisition for our club, and I think he’s got a real future as an NRL coach down the track.’’
Brennan said he would always be grateful to Gould for giving him a chance to continue his coaching career, which he considers as more of a passion than a profession, and to Knights assistant Rick Stone, who as head coach appointed him as a full-time assistant two years ago.
‘‘If you’d told me this 12 months ago – that I’d be at another club and getting named NYC coach of the year and have a team in the semis – I’d have said you’re cracking jokes,’’ he said.
‘‘If you look at some of the blokes coaching in the NYC, blokes like Jason Taylor, Dean Pay, I’ve never played NRL so I’m a bit of a nobody, really, so to receive this award, it’s very humbling.’’
Bennett retained his Knights predecessor, Rick Stone, as an assistant, but brought the rest of his coaching and support staff with him from the Dragons. That left Stone’s assistants, Brennan, Andrew Dunemann and Craig Sandercock looking for new jobs.
Dunemann has coached Canberra’s NYC team to the top of the ladder with two rounds to go, and Sandercock is in charge of English Super League club Hull Kingston Rovers.
Brennan holds no grudge against his former club, or his coaching ‘‘idol’’ Bennett, and hopes to eventually return home and continue his career where it began.
‘‘I’m contracted at Penrith until the end of next season and what happens after that is a bit up in the air,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ll see what happens, I suppose, but I’ve really enjoyed the past 12 months, and I’ve felt privileged being able to learn from people like Ivan and Gus.
‘‘To be able to run things past Phil whenever I like has been great for my education as a coach, but in saying that, I grew up idolising Wayne Bennett. He was and is the greatest coach ever, and I would have loved to have stayed and been able to learn and work under Wayne, but obviously that wasn’t meant to be, which I understand.
‘‘When a new coach comes in, he obviously brings his staff with him and that’s the nature of the game that I’m in. It would have been outstanding to work under someone like Wayne, but having an opportunity to work under Gus has been outstanding for me too.’’
Brennan spent nine years coaching Knights junior and lower-grade teams before the Panthers pounced. He still spends four or five nights a week at home with wife Rachael and their children Macy, Halle and Guy, only staying overnight in Penrith when he has to.
‘‘Newcastle’s home, and always will be to me,’’ the former police prosecutor said.
‘‘My wife and my kids are all settled in Newcastle, I’m a Newcastle boy through and through, and I credit a lot of what I’ve learnt to coming through the Newcastle systems.
‘‘I’ve got good friends among the staff and players, so there’s no animosity towards Newcastle whatsoever. I’d love to return one day, but who knows when or if that will happen.’’
Stone was pleased to see all three of his former assistants enjoy success at their new clubs and also believed Brennan was a worthy NYC coach of the year.
‘‘I think it’s a good acknowledgment of the fact Brenno can coach, because Penrith didn’t have a super team, and maybe they don’t even have a super team now, but obviously he’s made a difference and he’s taken them to a good position on the ladder,’’ Stone said.
‘‘They’ve been competitive for most of the year ... and he’s shown that he’s capable of doing what he’s doing, and he can do it on a consistent basis and get the best out of players wherever he is.
‘‘Duney and Sandy have done well too. We knew they were decent coaches, good people with a good work ethic, and good man managers. Just because they didn’t fit into Wayne’s plans, that doesn’t mean they can’t do a good job wherever they go.’’