KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown has welcomed the sense of expectation accompanying the new era that kicked off on Wednesday, when the Wests Group assumed full ownership of Newcastle’s NRL franchise.
On the same day that Newcastle’s players started pre-season training for 2018, Wests formally took control of the club, after a 10-week transitional joint venture with the NRL.
After collecting three consecutive wooden spoons, logic would suggest the only way is up for the Knights and, without offering any outlandish predictions, Brown was confident about making significant progress in 2018.
“I think the playing group should have much higher expectations, the coaching staff certainly will have, and I think the public should have, too,” Brown said.
Brown was optimistic the Knights now have a chance to enjoy sustained success, something that has eluded the club since the halcyon years of 1995 to 2003, when Newcastle only once missed the finals and won two premierships.
“Now I think for probably the first time in the club’s history, they’re very, very financially stable ... as far as stability and what Wests are providing now, and what they are going to provide in the future, it’s great that they’re involved with the Knights,” Brown said.
Brown said Wests had already taken steps towards improving the Knights’ resources, in particular by appointing full-time coaches for their under-18s (Scott Dureau) and under-16s (Rory Kostjasyn), for the first time in the club’s history.
“Where they’re going to help from an infrastructure point of view, that’s going to be really, really big for us,” Brown said.
"With our local juniors, in particular, we’ve now got extra money for a full-time SG Ball coach, a full-time Matthews Cup coach, which not every club has that.
“I know Newcastle certainly haven’t in the past, and I know a lot of other clubs don’t have it. There are just two examples of where we want to go as a club. Without Wests we wouldn’t have the finances to do those sort of things. And with young players, it’s certainly going to help us keep them.”
Brown said if Wests were successful in securing state government funding for a rugby league centre of excellence, the Knights would have facilities to rival any club in the NRL.
Newcastle have boosted their roster with a host of imports for next season, including Kalyn Ponga (North Queensland), Brisbane duo Herman Ese’ese and Tautau Moga, Connor Watson and Aidan Guerra from the Roosters, Slade Griffin (Melbourne) and Jacob Lillyman (Warriors).
Because of World Cup commitments and mandatory annual-leave requirements, only Lillyman joined his new teammates at training on Wednesday.
Brown had no doubt he would have a stronger squad at his disposal in 2018 but stopped short of predicting how many rungs he would like to climb on the ladder.
“We haven’t got our full squad together yet, and that’s probably going to be a fair way away, and that’s going to be the case with every club,” he said.
“We’ll know a little bit more once we get them all together and get them working on the park and see how the results are.
“But we're certainly expecting a fair bit of improvement.”
Newcastle are still in the market for players and, while Brown said there “may be no conversation to have” if the Roosters will not release Mitchell Pearce, he still sounded interested in the disgruntled halfback.
“All I know is he’s a Roosters player,” Brown said.
“The Roosters do want him to stay, I believe. What Mitchell wants to do, I don’t know … at the end of the day, Mitchell will make a decision and if he becomes available, we’ll have more to talk about then.”