How Knights are channelling spirit of NBA's 76ers
Trust the process.
After two straight years of finishing as the worst team in the Telstra Premiership and predictions of that becoming three at season's end, it's the calling card Knights fans could do well to pick up from those who follow the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA.
With rewards of high-round draft picks for poor performing teams, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie ripped the team apart and made no attempts to rebuild it, preferring instead to play a waiting game centred around draft picks he believed would deliver the franchise a superstar in the ilk of Michael Jordan and Lebron James.
A player not just capable of improving the team, but making them great.
With the third pick of the 2014 draft the 76ers acquired Joel Embiid who after two years of injury troubles has this season has established himself as one of the game's elite.
In 2016 the 76ers took Aussie Ben Simmons with pick No.1 and despite the fact that Simmons is yet to play also due to injury, they have won twice as many games this season as they did last year with 28 games still to play.
The consensus is that "the process" is working and while Hinkie was sacked before he could see his vision come to fruition, fans believe that the incredible gamble he took is about to pay off.
It is that kind of blind faith Newcastle recruit Jamie Buhrer is asking from a Knights supporter base that delivered the seventh-best home attendance in 2016 despite their team winning just one game.
Knights coach Nathan Brown doesn't have draft picks to fall back on. He must instead remodel a roster in such a fashion that he can free up space in the salary cap so that Newcastle can be aggressive in player recruitment.
The likes of Joey Leilua, Tyrone Roberts, Joseph Tapine, Beau Scott, Robbie Rochow, Korbin Sims and Jake Mamo have all been allowed to leave the club, giving Brown a batch of local juniors to blood as he prepares to make the acquisitions he hopes will turn the club around.
As Embiid has come to represent "the process" in Philadelphia so may Kalyn Ponga in Newcastle but Buhrer is adamant that the 2017 roster will be doing everything they can to repay the faith already shown by Newcastle fans.
"We'll get Embiid over here so he can say, 'Trust the process'," joked Buhrer, who is himself a Miami Heat fan.
"There is a fair bit of that. The squad we have here needs to concentrate on what's happening right now and be the best football team that we can be right now instead of looking too far ahead of what can be.
"That's our job. Our job's not to look ahead. You may only have one year in rugby league or one year left or five, six, seven or 10.
"I don't want to say 'Trust the process' in that they shouldn't expect things now because we as a team expect things of ourselves now.
"There is an element of that 'Trust the process' but this whole squad is certainly going to take this year on with a heap of importance and the fans deserve nothing less."
The signing of Ponga on a multi-million dollar deal is viewed as the cornerstone on which the next phase of the Knights will be built and if they can also lure the teenager's Cowboys teammate in Matt Scott, Knights fans will have reason to begin getting excited.
But while any arrivals are still 12 months away hooker Danny Levi says fans and critics should expect to see elements of 'the process' emerging in the 2017 season.
"It wasn't the best of years last year, we had a bit of an inexperienced team but 'Browny' [Knights coach Nathan Brown, no relation to 76ers coach Brett Brown] has got a plan in place and we've all got to trust that," Levi said.
"We believe we can be of course a lot better than last year but we believe we're a top-eight side. Everyone's pretty much wrote us off at the moment but we know what we can do and we've got to trust the process and make sure we go out there and prove it.
"At the moment it's going awesome. It's been a good pre-season, the group's real tight so it's looking to be on track at the moment."
Buhrer of course arrives at the club after 128 games over seven seasons with arch rivals Manly and captained the team that competed at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines a fortnight ago.
The Knights play their only full trial of the pre-season against Canberra at Seiffert Oval this Saturday and Buhrer said the continued support of Newcastle fans will help drive the club to more prosperous days.
"I've been astounded by the response of the Knights faithful, just with regards to where the club's been the last few years," Buhrer told NRL.com.
"How passionate they are and how confident they are in what we're doing here as a team.
"It's certainly great as a player to come in and not only myself but blokes that have been there the last couple of years, to see that they've still got our backs and still have faith in us.
"It makes you really want to do the best you can for them and get the club back where it should be."