Rugby league’s most successful coach has urged the Newcastle Knights to stick with current mentor Nathan Brown while attempting to rebuild the club.
Seven-time premiership winner Wayne Bennett reckons no other coach would be able to come in and turn the tumultuous tide currently being experienced at the NRL-owned franchise staring down the barrel of a third straight wooden spoon.
Bennett, who oversaw the Knights before Brown between 2012 and 2014, provided insights for the problems at hand after his side Brisbane came from behind to beat Newcastle 34-22 at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
He also weighed in about the Knights playing roster, including the 2018 arrivals of Broncos duo Tautau Moga and Herman Ese’ese as well as the pending departure of Wally Lewis Medallist Dane Gagai to South Sydney.
“The first challenge is to stop losing their quality players, losing Gagai is not what you want to do,” Bennett said.
“The second challenge is [having] more time with Nathan. He’s done a lot of things right here I’ve got to assume. None of us are perfect, but Newcastle’s not going to solve their problems by bringing a new coach in.
“At least he’s laid a format here and got them playing pretty well. They were good last week against Canterbury, obviously had a bad game against the Tigers and were good against the Dragons.
“They’re just not getting the wins, but no one else is going to come here and get those wins at the moment with the team they’ve got. There’s new players coming, so [that will help] strengthen what he’s got.”
One of those recruits will be Broncos centre Moga, who scored the second of three tries in 11 minutes after half-time and made 174 metres from 14 runs.
Bennett said post-game on Saturday that Moga was headed to the Knights next season. It came 24 hours after saying injured Broncos prop Ese’ese (knee) would also be part of Newcastle’s future campaigns.
“I don’t know if I was talking out of school the other day, I don’t understand all these new rules,” Bennett said. “Tautau’s told me he’s leaving. Herman’s told me he’s leaving. And they’re coming to the Knights. That’s all I know. I don’t know about the secrecy bit.”
Bennett said Moga, Ese’ese and touted signing Connor Watson teaming up with the likes of Aidan Guerra, Kalyn Ponga and mid-season transfer Shaun Kenny-Dowall would assist “experience” and “intensity” at Newcastle, who were up 12-6 at the break but failed to convert a ninth half-time lead.
“As a coach you can get them started pretty well, but after 15 or 20 minutes they’re really on their own,” Bennett said.
“All the bad habits start coming back ... but that’s a learnt thing and there’s a lot of young players in that team and not a lot of first grade experience. If Nathan [Brown] stays at it, they [the Knights] stay at it, get a few more players in the club and don’t lose any more of their quality players then that’s the best chance they’ve got of turning it around. They can’t turn it around any other way.”
Brisbane, who rested Origin stars Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire, now who move into a share of second spot on the competition ladder following the 12-point victory over the last-placed Knights.
Bennett said he pleased with the return of five-eighth Anthony Milford from a five-week shoulder injury and the “mistake free” performance of Jamayne Isaako at fullback.