Knights coach Adam O’Brien has spoken up about the club’s missed opportunity in securing Tigers half Luke Brooks and how releasing Mitchell Pearce greatly impacted their season.
After failing to make the top eight finishing in 14th place, O’Brien’s Knights had a season they’ll be eager to put in the past.
However Newcastle’s 2022 troubles began well before the 2022 season had started with Mitchell Pearce deciding to head abroad, joining the Catalans Dragons in the Super League.
The club would also be hit with a brutal series of Covid-19 outbreaks that cost them ‘five weeks of preseason’ training.
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Given Pearce’s experience, O’Brien felt that the 33-year-old had earned the right to request a change of scenery, however it was a decision that “affected us greatly”.
“I’m not sure if it’s a poor one, it’s certainly one that affected us greatly which was compounded by losing Brailes, Jayden Brailey – when you don’t sort of replace your seven and then losing your nine,” O’Brien told The Tooheys News podcast.
“They’re the two guys that handle the ball probably the most and they direct your team around so that really hurt losing Jayden, but I think put in the position again I’m not sure if I could have made a different call on that one.
“I know that won’t please everybody out there but I think if you have a guy sitting in front of you that’s been through a pretty tough season, looks very jaded and wasn’t sure if he could physically get through the rigours of another season.
“He looked to have needed a change and he expressed that to me and it would have been really hard to, I often think we’ll treat him how I would want – if he was my son – would want to be treated.
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“I think he earned the right to express his honest opinion on where he thought he was at physically and mentally.
“I was hopeful at the time that we may have landed a replacement, we certainly signed some guys in for depth that ended up playing, what we would’ve thought would have been half a dozen games, ended up playing the season, which will be great for them in their long term development.
“It certainly hurt the club there’s no doubt, losing Mitchell and not having replaced him and losing Jayden compounded that.”
While Adam Clune took on the halfback role in 2022, Tigers halfback Luke Brooks was rumoured to have shown interest in joining the Knights mid-way through the 2022 season.
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O’Brien revealed that the 27-year-old’s presence in the number seven jersey for Newcastle could have shifted the outcome of their season.
“Look there was certainly some noise around Luke wanting to join the club,” O’Brien said.
“The Tigers took a different road and wanted to keep Luke there which is totally their prerogative, he had a contract there.
“Had we landed him then maybe we would’ve had a different season, it’s hard to lump it on one young guy.
“Everything in reflection sort of compounded what ended up being a really difficult season.”
If Pearce’s release wasn’t bad enough, O’Brien disclosed the impact Covid had on the club’s preseason.
Overall the Knights cancelled two preseason camps due to covid outbreaks, which the Newcastle coach considers to be a major factor in the downfall of the squad’s physical fitness.
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“I think when you add it all up I think I worked out that it was about five weeks that we really missed,” O’Brien said.
“I think the covid outbreak started on our first player was on the 16th of December and through the likes of my club, I was of the view that when it really kicked off we thought it would go through the group quickly.
“Scheduled to finish on the 22nd of December, but I think reflecting I was really concerned about fathers in the group.
“I didn’t want to see them wake up on Christmas Day stuck in a room on their own and not being able to hug their kids.
“We made the decision as a club to hold training for that week, hoping to kick back off on the 4th of January and get our camps in and we made that decision – and then of course it kicked off again in January and we had to cancel.
“We had an army camp to organise and that got postponed and ultimately cancelled in the end due to restrictions travelling to Queensland and then put on a summer camp which was a three week camp.
“We lasted I think ten days, a lot of the staff went down with it, a lot of the playing group went down so it worked out about five weeks of the preseason.
“While it’s hard to disagree during the season with the injuries and having some young guys come up being able to handle the rigours of week in week out NRL it’s sort of showed that we weren’t physically as fit as we had been in the past and that’s something that I hope to rectify in this coming preseason certainly.”
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