Newcastle's Brown meets with AFL's GWS
Knights coach Nathan Brown had a meeting with AFL counterpart Leon Cameron of the Greater Western Sydney Giants to have a chat about building – or rebuilding – a club from scratch.
The AFL expansion team joined the competition in 2012 and while it finished last in its first two seasons, profited from some establishment support including draft concessions and climbed from off the bottom and close to finals contention in its third and fourth years.
With the group of promising but very young players maturing, the club earned a fourth-place finish and preliminary final berth in its fifth season last year and while the Knights are not a new club and the NRL does not have a draft, there are similarities to the rebuild Brown is trying to implement with his host of young local juniors.
"It's tough, with the situation we're in, you talk to any bottom team that's been through what we're going through," Brown said.
"I spent some time [on Friday] at GWS with Leon Cameron.
"We just had a chat just about kids. With what we've done, we're a bit different, I don't suppose any [NRL] club has done what we've done in the NRL since [its 1998 formation].
"Newcastle, all the kids like [captain] Sione [Mata'utia] and all the kids that have come through the 20s a number of years ago are basically like our draft picks, that's basically what we did. We've just gone back to scratch."
Barring former Sea Eagle Josh Starling, the bulk of the Knights pack against Manly on Friday comprised of local juniors aged 23 or under.
"The physicality of the game and learning how to win is tough but they've all improved a lot," Brown said.
"That's the one thing that you could promise when we went to the Knights is that we'd clear the roster and start again."
Brown said when he took over there were some older players past the best part of their careers and others – like Aku Uate who starred against his older team on Friday – who would benefit from getting a fresh start elsewhere.
"We've basically started again and that was the purpose of our meeting [with GWS]," Brown said.
"We've started again with kids, not with signing Martin Taupaus and blokes like that, we've started with a whole heap of kids.
"That's common in the AFL but it's not common in the NRL and that was the pathway that we decided to take as a whole club two years ago and that's the one we're going to continue to take until we find the right sort of senior players to sign.
"We've got to get it right because if we get it wrong the Knights will have another five or six bad years like the last 11 years have been."
One player who has caught Brown's eye is Roosters and Maroons back-rower Aidan Guerra. Brown confirmed Guerra was on the club's radar but insisted nothing was finalised yet.
"I can certainly tell you he's definitely a player of interest that we've met with a number of times. Where it ends up I couldn't honestly tell you at this stage but he's certainly a player of interest," Brown said.
Brown was confident there were signs of improvement; after winning just one game last season the club has two so far this year but has led in plenty more.
"Seven times [this year] we've led at half-time now. That shows the growth of all these young blokes which is great but we want to win some more games – for the fans, the young guys' confidence," he said.
"To see reward for effort would be good but the NRL is a tough business. The boys are getting better and that's what gives us great hope, every time we play a team the opposition coach is saying 'those blokes are far better than what they were last year' and that's great, now it's a matter of attracting the right players to help them so we can fast track them."