THE Wests Group are poised to show faith in Knights coach Nathan Brown by offering him a two-season contract extension.
The new deal, which would be likely to include performance-related clauses to safeguard Wests in case they were not satisfied with the progress of Brown’s team, would take him through until at least the end of the 2020 NRL season.
“The key for us is the head coach, getting him sorted out for the next period of time,” Wests chief executive Phil Gardner said.
“I think we’re keen to sign him on those performance conditions and get him extended for another two more seasons.
“Then we can offer some certainty for the players we’re trying to attract.
“It’s very hard to say to the players: ‘He’s only signed for one more year but we’d like you to sign for three or five.’
“That’s all got to go back to the [Wests] board and be approved, but in general terms, that’s the thinking.”
Brown arrived in Newcastle at the end of 2015 and is two seasons into a three-year deal.
When he took charge, the Knights were incumbent wooden spooners and they have since finished last in both 2016 and 2017, winning only six of 48 games in those two campaigns.
There have nonetheless been signs of improvement. Newcastle won five games this season, four more than last year, and improved their for-and-against statistics by 275 points.
A two-year extension would take Brown’s tenure to five years – the same time frame former Knights coach Wayne Bennett predicted it would take to rebuild the club when he left at the end of 2014.
The Knights have already locked in Brown’s staff for 2018 and, for the first time, their under-16 and under-18 coaches will be full-time positions.
“Our coaching-and-development team is super important for the young guys coming through,” Gardner said.
“We’ve decided we want to have full-time coaches for the 16s, 18s and 20s and reserve grade, so we can provide our local juniors with the best possible pathway.
“We believe having high-level, professional coaches right through the club can make a difference.”
Gardner said Newcastle’s high-performance junior program would now be “the best resourced it has ever been by the time we start next year”.
Recently retired hooker Rory Kostjasyn, whose hopes of playing for Newcastle were cruelled by a career-ending throat injury he suffered in pre-season training, will coach the under-16s.
Former Newcastle halfback Scott Dureau will coach the under-18s, and both he and Kostjasyn will oversee the elite-development program from under-13s up.
Former Newcastle, Parramatta, Melbourne, Warriors and Brisbane utility Todd Lowrie will again coach under-20s, and ex-Canberra hooker Simon Woolford is again in charge of NSW Cup.
Newcastle have appointed former Cronulla assistant coach James Shepherd to replace the departed Kurt Wrigley, who has returned to Sydney for family reasons.
Gardner was optimistic that Brown’s other assistant, Mick Potter, would stay with Newcastle despite speculation linking him with a vacant position at Canterbury.
“Mick’s contracted to us for next year,” Gardner said.
“If there was any reason he wanted that to change, we’d have to have some discussions with him about what he wants to do.”
Wests will assume full ownership of the Knights on November 1. They are currently partners in a transitional joint venture with the NRL.