NEWCASTLE Knights coach Brian Smith said yesterday that he had no regrets about allowing Josh Perry to leave the club as the big prop prepared to finish his first season with Manly in a blaze of glory.
Perry is tantalisingly close to capping a dream year with two coveted rewards: a grand final triumph against Melbourne at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, followed by selection two days later in Australia’s 24-man squad for the World Cup.
A premiership ring and green-and-gold jersey would be an emphatic response from Perry to his critics, raising the question of why the Knights let the local junior slip through their fingers.
But Smith said yesterday he was happy to see the 27-year-old realising his potential and was far from surprised by Perry’s renaissance since joining the grand final favourites.
“Not [surprised] at all,” Smith said.
“I actually picked Josh for the NSW Country team way back when , and I also tried to recruit him on a couple of occasions while I was at Parramatta.
“I’m as aware as anybody, and maybe more than most, of what he was capable of doing.
“It happens where players sometimes just need a change in environment to bring the best out in themselves . . . I’m quite happy for him.
“I’m pleased he’s been able to join a strong club and achieve what he’s capable of doing.”
Smith felt there was no point in either Perry or the Knights pondering what might have been.
The Valentine-Eleebana product has been a tower of strength for Manly this year, missing only one game out of 26.
But the man who Newcastle signed to replace him, former Melbourne prop Ben Cross, represented Country, NSW Origin and the Prime Minister’s XIII and is also a World Cup contender.
“We’ve done OK as a club without him, and Josh has done OK for himself without us, after a change,” Smith said.
“That’s sometimes how it happens.
“It’s probably not what he wanted, and in a lot of cases it’s not what Newcastle would have preferred either, but it’s just how it comes out.”
Perry, who is in the first season of a three-year deal with Manly, told The Herald recently that the most disappointing aspect of leaving his home-town club was that nobody officially told him he was unwanted.
“That was probably something that I didn’t really appreciate,” Perry said.
“They never, ever said they didn’t want me . . . I waited as long as I could, but they left me with no option.”
Smith said that the Knights had not ruled out making a belated bid for Perry but were beaten to the punch by Manly.
“If he had waited until the end of the year, or waited a bit longer, it could have possibly turned out that we made an offer to keep him.
“But he did what he did, and I’m sure he’s happy with it.
“I think our club has shown this year that we’ve done OK without him, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t have done better with him.
“That’s just how things happen in a professional world.”
After bursting into first grade in 2000 as a teenager and then helping Newcastle win the 2001 grand final, Perry became an enigma during his eight years and 142 top-grade games in the blue and red.
There were times when his commitment and discipline attracted scrutiny, and in some ways the Knights were in a no-win situation when he came off contract last year.
Had they re-signed him and he continued to languish, fans would have criticised that decision, just as some are now asking why he was not retained.
Smith said it was easy to be wise with hindsight.
“There’s no guarantee that Josh would have found that same form he’s shown at Manly if he stayed in Newcastle,” he said.
“There was no certainty he was going to play any better down there.
“Nothing in footy is certain, but he’s had a good season and I’m pretty sure most people at the Knights are happy for him.”