KNIGHTS players have the last six games of their wretched NRL campaign to convince club management they should not follow sacked coach Rick Stone out the door.
Stone became the NRL’s first coaching casualty of the season on Monday when told his position had become untenable.
Signed last August to a two-year deal to replace Wayne Bennett, Stone is the first coach in Newcastle’s 27-year history to have been moved on with a year left on his contract.
Former Knights, NSW and Australian captain Danny Buderus, who is in his first year as one of Stone’s assistants, will take the reins on a caretaker basis for the rest of the season as Knights management begins the process to recruit Stone’s long-term replacement.
Speaking at what was supposed to be a media briefing to outline their strategic plan for the next three years, Knights chief executive Matt Gidley, chairman Brian McGuigan and football committee chairman John Quayle said everyone at the club had to take some responsibility for the team’s woeful run of just two wins from their past 14 games.
Gidley said Buderus had no aspirations to be an NRL coach in the immediate future but had accepted the challenge of holding the reins for the rest of the season, starting with training on Tuesday in preparation for the game against the Dragons next Sunday.
Quayle said the review of the club’s football operations would not be rushed but Gidley expected the new coach and support staff would be in place in time for the start of pre-season training in early November.
‘‘The easy option would be to get to the end of the year then do a formal review process but we feel like there’s an opportunity now for our team to use the next seven weeks to try and demonstrate some character traits that our club has been built on,’’ Gidley said. ‘‘What I will say to our players is they’ve got seven weeks to prove to us that they want to be a part of this club long-term, and they know very clearly the types of character traits we want to see in their performance on a weekly basis.
‘‘It’s up to them to go and commit to those. Danny built his entire career on doing that every single week, so that’s what they need to do.
‘‘It’s not rocket science. We want to see them go out and perform to a level that our community demands of them.’’
Explaining the decision to terminate Stone’s contract now rather than at the end of the season, Quayle believed it was better to conduct the review ‘‘in front of Rick rather than behind him’’.
McGuigan said management had given Stone more than enough time to get results but agreed with Gidley the players had to take some responsibility.
‘‘All bets are off,’’ McGuigan said. ‘‘If they don’t want this, we don’t want them.
‘‘It’s an overall review that we are contemplating, not just the coaching, but also the players themselves because everyone in the team needs to be accountable ... the directors need to be accountable, and the management needs to be accountable.
‘‘We are the representatives of this district, and we are proud of this district, so we’d better lift our game and get some results.’’
Gidley said the players had not consistently demonstrated the effort and spirit expected of any Knights team during their slide down the ladder.
‘‘This is a difficult decision because Rick’s a great man, he cares deeply about the club, he works incredibly hard, and it’s difficult to make this decision,’’ he said.
‘‘But if we’re going to sit here and talk about building quality teams and world-class teams, we need to keep ourselves accountable to that ... and start the process of looking out at the market and seeing what type of coaches are available, and be really clear about the type of coach we think we need moving forward to deliver on some of the things that are in this plan.’’
Garth Brennan, Nathan Brown and Geoff Toovey are among the candidates being touted as Stone’s permanent successor but Gidley and Quayle said the club would take as much time as necessary to find the right person.
Though the NRL owns the Knights, Gidley said the club would be responsible for paying out Stone’s contract. A pay-out figure was not disclosed.
Gidley said the decision to sack Stone would not affect the signing of Bulldogs and NSW half Trent Hodkinson, former Dragons prop Mickey Paea and former Knight Todd Lowrie.
Though their positions will be scrutinised, Gidley said Knights football director Michael Hagan, operations manager Warren Smiles and Stone’s support staff, including assistant coach Craig Sandercock, would continue in those roles until further notice.