Brian Smith faces last chance in 2008

Brian Smith at Newcastle KnightsFew coaches are discussed as much as current Newcastle boss Brian Smith. Unquestionably talented as an NRL mentor, the intense Smith has had his difficulties in managing his strong personality – in a much similar way to Warren Ryan and Chris Anderson who travelled a similar path before him.

When he outstayed his welcome at the Parramatta Eels, the coachless Newcastle Knights threw Smith a lifeline. Missing their frist two choices for headcoach, the Knights had to take Smith as the best available option at the time. There is no question; Smith can create a winning culture within a club. He has the ability to put the best training and conditioning systems in place, he’s able to create squads with quality and depth – and he undoubtedly always does his homework on opposition teams.

The problem for Smith and the Knights, is that his methods do take time and usually result in personality clashes and casualties along the way. Time is something the Knights or any NRL club for that matter don’t have these days; they need to be consistently competitive and challenging for the Top 8 sooner, rather than later. The trail of destruction Smith usually leaves is already evident in the corridors of Newcastle – Andrew Johns was an early retiree in 2007, Kirk Rynoldson was a highly publicised casualty and word on the street was Danny Buderus wanted witness protection somewhere else too. Not good signs for a usually tight knit club.

An insight into the Knights under Smith in 2007 came through former Newcastle Prop Paul Harragan; who as a Knights board member was forced to explain the situation on live television, when the Channel 9 Footy Show put the questions to him regarding life at the Newcastle Knights. With the public and even high profile corporate backers of the Knights calling for Brian Smith’s head – Harragan explained that even though Smith is contracted until the end of 2009, if results are poor in the first half of 2008 – then the Knights would move to axe Smith.

The experienced Smith is no stranger to the pressure and it seems in 2008 he will have plenty of it from Day 1, this could realistically be Brian Smith’s last throw of the dice at coaching within the NRL ranks. In the past, there has always been a plan B – but just like Chris Anderson and his last hurrah at the Roosters; there are times when coaches, no matter how talented - just lose their touch.

The players at the Knights are already seeing the intensity at training; Kurt Gidley has said publically it’s been the most intense, yet promising pre-season he has seen since starting with the Knights. Smith will need to squeeze every ounce from his limited squad and pray for few injuries – without Joey, the Knights simply don’t have the ‘wildcard’ to get out of jail in every game.

While there may be options in the UK Super League should Smith be dumped, it’s the elusive NRL premiership that keeps the experienced Smith coming back for more. One of the most talented coaches never to take the prize, if B.Smith can’t get his troops to fire by mid-season – he might never get another crack at winning the NRL, his trophy cabinet to sadly remain empty. 

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