Brown surprised to notch 200th NRL game as coach
Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown has been so focused on getting the team ready for action, he did not realise he was about to reach a major milestone.
When told by NRL.com he would be at the helm for his 200th Telstra Premiership game on Friday when the Knights tackle Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at McDonald Jones Stadium, it was a pleasant surprise for Brown leading into his third year in charge at the club.
''I didn't realise, to be honest, and I had no idea,'' Brown said.
''There's not that many head coach jobs in rugby league so to rack up this amount of games you've got to feel lucky.''
Brown's coaching career began in 2003 when he was appointed head coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons at just 29, the club in which he had enjoyed a successful playing career.
The hooker had played 172 games in the Red V between 1993 and 2000 before announcing his retirement due to a neck injury.
His coaching journey was inspired by his father's passion of coaching in the bush. Brown thought he would love to follow in the family footprint of making that dream become a reality.
''I always thought I would love to do that one day because I used to see players come over and they all looked up to him a bit and he always helped them out in other way,'' Brown recalls.
''So I thought to myself I would really love to give that a go and that always made me feel that I wanted to coach.
''I guess I just started to coach a lot earlier than many other people because of that injury.''
If anyone offered him the chance to coach, he was going to take them up.
''Retirement wasn’t something that made me want to coach, it was something I always wanted to do,” Brown said.
“I was very fortunate at my early days at the Dragons because they had coaches like David Waite, Brian Smith and they all taught me many different things.
“Those kind of people give so much to kids I thought because back then not all clubs had very good coaches back in the early 90s, so I felt very lucky to learn off many of them.
“It was a good starting point and a better education from those guys and others around the club at that time."
Brown admits he was lacking in both life and coaching experience when he took over at the Dragons.
There were many lessons that he learned in the sink or swim environment of professional rugby league – although he wouldn't change any of it for quids.
''I felt we got plenty of things right at St George Illawarra, maybe a few things wrong and some I'd say there might be a better way to do it but it set me up for what was to follow,'' Brown said.
England's Super League had countless appeal for Brown. He linked with Huddersfield in 2009 for the next step in his coaching career, and provided him a new set of challenges.
''Huddersfield were a team that were down the bottom of the ladder at that stage and I took a lot of satisfaction on how we built Huddersfield before I moved on to St. Helens where it was a totally different challenge,'' Brown said.
Once at St Helens, he steered the side to a 2014 Super League title.
''I enjoy a town where the community and the team feed off each other,'' he said.
''You've got to remember I was involved in a lot of losing grand finals at the top level with the Dragons in first grade playing and then the under 20s.
''So then to win a premiership its like wow it does eventually happen. There was plenty of personal and family satisfaction as well.''
Brown then packed his bags and headed home to Australia to take up an advisory role at the Melbourne Storm under head coach Craig Bellamy. That kept him in the game.
''I was sort of like the public carpark down there – all care and no responsibility,'' Brown joked.
''My job down there was watching games and basically writing reports. I really enjoyed my time there as it was the first year I wasn’t a head coach for a lot of years.
''So, I was able to pick up bits of what works and what doesn’t so again I picked up a lot of tips from such another professional club.''
Fortunately, he was not out of a head coaching role for long, with the Knights hierarchy approaching Brown to see if he would be interested in leading the Knights following the tumultuous Nathan Tinkler era.
Brown knew it wasn’t going to be easy but it was yet another challenge for him to sink his teeth into - and light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel.
On the back of two consecutive wooden spoons the Knights are now in a stronger position off and on the field thanks to an array of players Brown has been able to lure into red and blue colours.
''Off the back of how we competed well last year, we just need to keep competing well and improve on the way we do compete.
''If we do that we will win more games and that’s what we simply need to do.''