Coach Adam O’Brien wants Knights to turn top 4 ‘pipe-dream’ into reality next season | Newcastle Herald

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Knights coach Adam O’Brien goes one-on-one with Barry Toohey about the start of pre-season training and his side’s NRL prospects in 2022. BT: The biggest off-season talking point has been the departure of Mitchell Pearce. Have you come to terms with him leaving? AO: I knew talking to him it was the right thing for us and him. Once we spoke face-to-face and I could tell how much the season got to him, I knew. BT: Did you try to talk him out of leaving? AO: He actually said to me, look, if you don’t want me to go, I’ll realign my thinking and I’ll be able to get on board and just get on with it. But I just reckoned three months in, it would have been too hard. I’m comfortable. In the end, I think it was the right time for him and us. BT: It does leave you in a bit of a hole though now doesn’t it? AO: Phoenix [Crossland] and Adam Clune can’t do anymore than they are doing. Phoenix is a completely different kid. It started in camp on the Sunshine Coast with the responsibilities we gave him running the opposition in opposed sessions at training. He has grown up a lot in 12 months. I like his physicality. Probably what I want to see from him is a little less structure. It takes experience but I want to see him open up a little bit. But in terms of execution of skill, his size and toughness, he’s got all of that. BT: ….and Clune? AO: The first impressions of him have been outstanding, just with his fitness and his speed. Joey even said to me, ‘he’s a better footballer than I thought he was’. So I’m pleased we’ve got depth in our halves. There is no doubt if you get injuries in your spine, it is very difficult to consistently win. BT: What about Luke Brooks. Is he potentially still an option? AO: I have no idea. I’m not talking about that. You know I don’t talk about recruitment. BT: Another talking point has been Kalyn Ponga and his future. What are your thoughts? AO: I can’t fault him, he’s been great. He trained hard on his own before coming back in and some of his times have been exceptional. There is a fire in his guts – he’s got a burning desire to win. I’ve met with him a few times now and he’s as focused and determined as I’ve ever seen him. He’s healthy too, we finally get him for a summer. It’s the first time I’ve had him fit and healthy for a summer since I’ve been here. BT: But what about the speculation linking him to Redcliffe? AO: I’m really confident he wants to be here and if he really wants to win [a premiership] in this day and age, I think it’s highly unlikely Redcliffe are going to be able to do it in their first, say five years anyway. Like I said, the feeling I get from him he is as focused as ever, personally and with us as a team. BT: Andrew Johns’ return in a consulting capacity was a coup. I know you have had feelers out for Joey for quite some time. How did you get his signing over the line? AO: Bedsy had approached him a few times to sound him out and we called him to see about having a chat. He came up, we sat down and went through some video. I showed him what I was seeing and what I thought we could do and he showed me his stuff and got excited about it. Then he let Parra know he was coming. BT: What are your impressions of him so far? AO: He’s been exceptional. It’s not just with the senior squad but the academy as well. You always learn something when he is here and that’s not just the players, it’s staff as well. He’s been really meticulous in his planning which has impressed me, as have his ideas. BT: You have a lot of new staff, particularly in the performance and medical area with injuries a big factor over the past couple of seasons. How has that transition been? AO: We’ve made some changes and brought in a lot of premiership-winning experience so I feel more confident about it. I feel like we are well organised across the board and we’ve got a lot more bases covered. Hayden [Knowles, high performance boss] is obviously a big one for us because of that experience and his role will encompass coaching as well as the performance areas. BT: What have you got planned for your maligned attack. Will Pearce leaving significantly change things? AO: The way we have designed how we want to attack going forward with the coaches, we are not going to rely on a real figurehead No.7. We’ll be looking for a bit more from Brails, certainly a lot more from Kalyn, we’ll be looking to share it more with Junior not there. We are looking at Kurt and Simi sharing the 13 role and giving us another half option that doesn’t rely as much on a dominant 7. BT: So Kurt will be your Victor Radley or Isaah Yeo-type player at first receiver? AO: Yeah, that’s the plan with Simi coming off the bench and playing a role there as well as a 14. But we’ll also look at maybe Phoenix playing that role also if he is not a 6 or 7. I want it to be an adjustable player for our half. We definitely have some good depth there with Kurt and Randy [Chris Randall] being able to play 13 and 9 if needed. BT: Will that be the big attacking change next season? AO: That and an overall change of mindset about our willingness just to throw more footy at the opposition. That will be a focus. I think we put plenty of pressure on our defence at times last season simply because we didn’t do enough with the footy in attack. BT: Statistically, your attack was the second worse in the comp. You are obviously committed to changing that? AO: I put Joey Johns on staff. That’s a sign that I’m willing to really commit to our attack. We’ll spend a lot more time on it. But in saying that, I’m not going to compromise on where we need to get to with our defence either. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we are a long way off having that part of the game ingrained and I won’t be satisfied until it’s entrenched in our DNA. BT: If you were to single out a couple of young guys who have impressed in the first few weeks of the pre-season, who would they be? AO: Dom [Young]. It’s like his twin brother is now here. To be fair, it was all new to him last year but he’s like a new player now. He’s been leading some of the fitness stuff, his aggression in the wrestle sessions has been right up there – he’s just stood out. The other one would be Phoenix and young [Bailey] Hodgson too but in reality, I’ve been happy with quite a few. BT: Depth may not be as a big an issue then? AO: No, I think we’ll have some good depth. We’ll have some real good competition for spots which is what you need. BT: Finally, what about your expectations? AO: We won’t be content with finishing seventh and falling out in week 1, I can tell you that. I honestly believe top four is well within our capabilities but at the moment, it’s a pipe-dream. We need to make it happen.


Coach Adam O’Brien wants Knights to turn top 4 ‘pipe-dream’ into reality next season | Newcastle Herald Source link Coach Adam O’Brien wants Knights to turn top 4 ‘pipe-dream’ into reality next season | Newcastle Herald

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