Brown’s time running out as perfect Knights fit emerges
NEWCASTLE legend Danny Buderus recently took a seat in the Andrew Johns meeting room at the NSW Centre of Excellence and reflected on the six games he served as interim coach of the Knights.
Buderus was thrust into the position on a caretaker basis following the axing of Rick Stone four years ago, won two games and then returned to an assistant's role when the Knights appointed Nathan Brown as their head coach.
Buderus left the coaching staff for good at the end of the 2016 season and has spent the time since immersed in the NSW State of Origin set-up, helping prepare many of the players who helped Brad Fittler to success in last year's series.
He remains involved at the Knights, both as fan and official. The hunger to coach in the NRL is nowhere near as strong as it once was, his appetite for the game satiated by his work with the NSW Rugby League and Fox Sports.
"For me, at Newcastle, I had a huge connection emotionally," Buderus said.
"I used to say to Browny 'it can't get much worse than this'. He used to say, 'you haven't seen anything yet'. He knows how to rebuild a club. It takes time and it takes patience."
Time and patience appear now to be running thin for Brown. The Knights' loss on the Gold Coast on Sunday was possibly their worst of the year - they have now lost five games in succession and woke on Monday morning with only Canterbury keeping them from the bottom of the ladder.
This was the season, after years of rebuilding, the Knights were meant to threaten for a place in the top eight. Yet finals football seems light years away.
Brown is in the firing line, the coach having finally been given a side many believe capable of challenging for the finals.
He has a handful of bona fide superstars in his side, led by Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce. The Knights signed David Klemmer to a mega-deal in the off-season.
They should be better than they are and Brown is rightfully under the microscope, his position on shaky ground if you believe the whispers swirling around the code.
There are no shortage of potential replacements, the queue no doubt led by Sydney Roosters assistants Adam O'Brien and Craig Fitzgibbon.
Fitzgibbon, in particular, seems a perfect fit for the Knights. He still lives in Wollongong and enjoys being away from the hustle and bustle of the city, a lifestyle he could maintain in a place like Newcastle.
He had a reluctance to be a head coach early in his career but the sense is that he is now ready to challenge himself by being the man under the gun, rather than the loyal lieutenant. He has been a vital cog in the Roosters in recent seasons and has largely been responsible for the defensive systems that helped the side win last year's premiership.
He also has connections to the Knights through the club's director of football Brian Canavan, who once filled the same role at the Roosters.
There are likely to be other candidates as well but Fitzgibbon would appear the ideal fit for a club that needs to fix a defence that leaked a whopping 38 points on Sunday.
Brown looked like a man who could see the end approaching after that game. The knock has been that the players have been given too much power in Newcastle. Exhibit A: the decision to play Ponga at five-eighth earlier in the season. That decision was believed to have been pushed by Ponga himself.
The next three games will be telling. They play Parramatta, New Zealand Warriors and Canterbury over that stretch - all games they would be expected to win - and anything less than two wins would intensify the pressure on Brown.
After that, life gets more difficult with Sydney Roosters, South Sydney, St George Illawarra and Melbourne on the horizon. Brown and the Knights need to start winning and winning soon.