IF things had panned out differently, Garth Brennan may well have been sitting alongside Nathan Brown on Saturday, instead of plotting his downfall in the adjacent coach’s box.
Brennan, the born-and-bred Novocastrian, will coach against his home-town club for the first time at NRL level when his Gold Coast Titans host Brown’s Knights at CBus Super Stadium.
After steering Newcastle’s under-20s into the National Youth Competition play-offs for the first time in 2011, Brennan was not retained on the staff of incoming master coach Wayne Bennett.
Bitterly disappointed, he linked with Penrith, where he won an under-20s title, two NSW Cup premierships and eventually landed his first NRL gig at the Titans.
But towards the end of the 2016 season, he met with Brown to discuss the possibility of joining forces at the Knights.
“I caught up with Browny one night in Dudley and we had a beer and a chat,’’ Brennan told the Newcastle Herald.
“There was never any role offered, and nothing ever eventuated.
“If there had been a job going, and a chance to come back home, I probably would have taken it.
“I was at a point where I was still living in Newcastle but working at Penrith, and I thought it was time to move back home and spend more time with my family. But things happen for a reason. As one door closes, another opens.
I was still living in Newcastle but working at Penrith, and I thought it was time to move back home.GARTH BRENNAN
“As it panned out, I stayed with Penrith, and because of that, I got the job up here at the Titans.
“It’s turned out to be a blessing for me, although in saying that, Newcastle is home, it’s a place that I love, and I’ll probably end up back there at some stage.”
Brennan insists Saturday’s game carries no extra significance for him, other than the two competition points Gold Coast desperately need.
He coached against Newcastle a number of times in the lower grades, including a 2014 NSW Cup grand final win against his good friend, Rick Stone.
After a dream start to his NRL career, which kicked off with a remarkable 30-28 comeback win against Canberra, and three victories in the first five games, the 46-year-old former policeman has experienced a reality check.
The Titans have slipped to five successive losses and encountered a spate of injuries to key players.
For Brennan, it’s a matter of being patient and staying positive.
He signed a three-year deal and realised when he joined the Titans that there would be no overnight turnaround.
“We’re probably in a similar situation to what Newcastle were a couple of years ago,” Brennan said. “We’re building a team.
“I’ve inherited a roster and there are not many coaches who take over a club that’s in great shape, because normally a coach has just been sacked after his team hasn’t performed.
“We’re no different. Our salary cap is a bit all over the shop, to be honest, but it’s a matter of finding the right mix of players that I want, to play the style of football that I want. It’s going to take time, and I was fully aware of that when I came here.”
Brennan’s recruitment and retention for next season has been impressive, picking up Tyrone Peachey (Penrith) and Shannon Boyd (Canberra), as well as re-signing Queensland Origin prop Jarrod Wallace.
“Jarrod’s a Gold Coast kid and, like Newcastle, we want to hang onto our local products,” Brennan said. “He’s signed for four years and it’s a real boost for us that he’s shown faith in the club and where we’re heading.”
Brennan admitted the Titans were “a bit battered and bruised” after last week’s loss to Melbourne but was confident they could bounce back to the winners’ list. “We’re hoping to get a couple of blokes back this week, like Nathan Peats and Jai Arrow, and the good thing is that almost every game, we’ve been in the fight,” he said.