THE Newcastle Knights are leaning towards extending Nathan Brown’s contract before next season kicks off – but with performance-related clauses built into his new deal.
Brown has one season remaining on the three-year tenure he accepted at the end of 2015 and his future is now in the hands of the Wests Group board of directors, who will assume full ownership of Newcastle’s NRL franchise on November 1.
Wests chief executive Phil Gardner told the Newcastle Herald that making a decision on whether to retain Brown would be a priority.
“We’ll be having conversations with Nathan very early on, around his role and where he sits,” Gardner said.
“There’s nothing that I'm seeing to suggest we would not be extending his contract, but my board would have to make that decision at the end of the day.”
Gardner said, in his opinion, “Nathan’s done a good job up to date”.
The Knights were wooden spooners when Brown arrived and have since finished last in both seasons under his command, but there has been evidence of progress.
In 2016, Newcastle won only one game and finished with a points differential of minus-495.
This season they won five games and reduced the differential to minus-220, an improvement of almost 14 points per game.
Rather than wait for the early rounds of 2018 to assess Brown’s position, Gardner is considering an alternative strategy to safeguard against a possible downturn.
"Certainly performance next year will be important,’’ he said. “Any negotiation we have about extension would have something in it about performance for next year.
“We’d be very much up front about that in any discussion and have performance criteria that we all agree to.”
Gardner said Wests’ board had noted developments at Canterbury, who last week sacked coach Des Hasler, just months after announcing he had signed a two-season extension.
Hasler is now threatening to take legal action and chase his former club for a payout of at least $1 million.
“If the wheels fell off the cart, we wouldn’t want to be caught in the position the Bulldogs are in,” Gardner said.
Brown said he would be “more than happy” to discuss his future whenever Gardner felt the time was appropriate.
“I’ve got a good relationship with Phil, he was one of the people who hired me,” Brown said.
“I’m very comfortable with where I’m at. If he wants to sit down for a chat, that’s fine by me.”
Meanwhile, the Knights are expected to confirm in the near future the signing of former North Queensland, Warriors and Queensland Origin prop Jacob Lillyman.
Lillyman, 33, is understood to have a agreed to a one-year deal with Newcastle.
There is also a strong chance that Melbourne utility Slade Griffin will link with the Knights next year.
Storm was among a group of players to farewell the home fans after the Storm’s 30-0 win against Brisbane in Friday’s preliminary final.
The 26-year-old is in contention to play in Sunday’s grand final against the Cowboys.