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Why Knights have identified O'Brien as ideal next coach

As Craig Bellamy pondered his future last year, weighing up a gigantic offer from the Broncos to replace Wayne Bennett, the Storm considered their own future.

How would they replace the irreplaceable, if Bellamy was to decide to do the unthinkable?

Internally, as optimistic as they were of holding on to Bellamy, contingency discussions were had.

And had Bellamy packed his bags for Red Hill, Adam O'Brien would now be at the helm of the Melbourne Storm.

The same Adam O'Brien who, when John Quayle rang some influential Knights figures 18 months ago to get a gauge on who were the best young coaches in the game, he was atop the list.

Outside of those involved in the game, not many know his name. He was just a player when Brad Arthur captain-coached the Batemans Bay Tigers to a Group Seven premiership in the early 2000's, following him to play in Cairns soon after, before accepting a job as Arthur's assistant of the Melbourne Storm under-20 team.

For the next 11 years O'Brien served an apprenticeship under arguably the best rugby league system on the planet.

A system that during his time produced the likes of Michael Maguire, Anthony Seibold, Kevin Walters, Stephen Kearney and Dean Pay.

Then at the end of last year he walked out, joining Trent Robinson's coaching staff at the Sydney Roosters.

At the Storm end-of-season dinner, in which he was inducted as a life member of the club, his acceptance speech doubled as a farewell speech.

O'Brien pays tribute to Bellamy

When you watch the footage, which many at the Knights have done online in looking for a replacement for outgoing coach Nathan Brown, it becomes clear as to why he is so highly regarded by all who come across him.

"To Bellyache, to Craig," O'Brien said choking back tears in front of the lectern.

"I owe my life to you. The hardest thing I ever had to do was talk to you about leaving. My life is in such a better place having your support. I'm not ashamed to say that I love you very much and I will be loyal to you for the rest of my life."

His choice to depart for the team that was the biggest threat to their title aspirations was one they objected to because, to put it simply, it wasn't in the best interest of the Storm.

However, it was one they still supported at the same time.

O'Brien didn't want it to seem like he was throwing his toys out of the cot given Bellamy had decided to stay in charge of the Storm for a further three seasons.

Yet, at the same time he realised he would be better equipped to handle a potential NRL head coaching job if he knew more than just the Storm way under Bellamy.

So he went to Bondi Junction.

Those close to him say he's closer to the Bellamy side of the spectrum than the Robinson end in regards to his intensity and coaching style.

A coach who relates well to his players, but isn't afraid to play the disciplinarian when the situation calls for it. Some good old-fashioned tough love.

That has been the criticism of Brown – an honourable person with a great relationship with the players but has been lenient on some of his team.

But the Knights organisation now feel they need more from a coach to get the best out of this roster.

Arthur: Brown will get another opportunity

The only knock on O'Brien is the fact he's never coached his own team.

When he was brought to the Storm in the mid 2000s by Arthur, he served as his assistant in the under 20s, before taking on the same role under Dean Pay.

He then became the club's development coach, working with the top squad players who weren't playing NRL.

After that apprenticeship he was rewarded with a promotion to an assistant coach's role in 2014, before becoming Bellamy's right-hand man for his final three years at the club.

He's only ever been involved in a winning culture, and that's what the Knights are after. The club believes a culture of mediocrity has settled in at the club and wants someone to come in demanding success as the benchmark.

Brown admitted as much at his media conference on Wednesday when he conceded his forte was rebuilding rosters.

The Knights aren't rebuilding. Brown has done a great job of that. Now they want to win. 

While defence was originally O'Brien's speciality, the fact Bellamy conducts a lot of the defensive work at the Storm meant he had to focus on the club's attack – a role which he now fills at the Roosters.

So for the past few years, he's worked closely with the game's best players, getting an insight into the minds of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, James Tedesco, Cameron Munster and Luke Keary.

The first thing people talk about in regards to O'Brien is his work ethic. A first-in, last-out kind of guy.

Brown: Life isn't full of fairytales

It's why the opinion of Tim Glasby, who worked with O'Brien at the Storm, will be taken into consideration when Newcastle decide who takes the job for 2020 and beyond.

He's also got club legend Matthew Johns in his corner, someone who saw first-hand just how influential he was at the Storm during his consultancy work with the club over the past decade.

The Knights want to win. It's contagious, they believe. You'd be hard-pressed to find many in the game that have experienced that feeling more than O'Brien this past decade.

Tonga Tim

With Kristian Woolf a strong contender to get the St Helens job as Justin Holbrook's replacement next year, there's plenty of discussions being had about the future of the Tongan national side. understands former Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens has been linked to the job if Woolf lands a job in the Super League and is unable to commit.

Selecting the NRL Coach of the Decade

Woolf has done a phenomenal job with Tonga over the past five years, especially since their golden run at the 2017 World Cup, convincing some of the game's best players to turn the minnow nation into a powerhouse.

Sheens was sacked by Hull KR in June and is looking for a job, and could be coaching against the Kangaroos when they square off against Tonga at Eden Park in November.

Panthers happy to bring back Api

Penrith have joined the race for Apisai Koroisau's signature in 2020. The former Panther could be returning but the Warriors and Bulldogs are holding out hope to nab the hooker.

It's almost certain he won't be at the Sea Eagles in 2020. While the Panthers have unearthed Mitch Kenny this year, they believe Koroisau would provide plenty of spark to an attack that has struggled for the most part of the season.

Interestingly, Trent Barrett could be a key figure in discussions. Barrett worked with Koroisau at Penrith when he was assistant coach, before luring the hooker to Manly when he signed on as Geoff Toovey's successor in 2016.

Barrett, who will return to Penrith's coaching staff as Ivan Cleary's assistant next year, has a very strong relationship with Koroisau and is understood to be trying to tempt him back west.

Coach weighs in on Maloney Cleary combination

Issac to Tigers looks unlikely

Speaking of No.9s – it doesn't appear likely Issac Luke will be heading to the Wests Tigers next year despite taking to Twitter to admit he would be there “in a heartbeat” if they wanted him.

Luke, off contract at the Warriors at the end of this season, has been in constant dialogue with Kiwi teammate Benji Marshall in the hope of landing a deal with the Tigers.

The Tigers don't have wiggle to room in the salary cap and are waiting to see if Ben Matulino is forced into retirement due to a knee injury and Josh Reynolds departs before hitting the market.

Internally there are plenty of discussions about skipper Moses Mbye moving into the hooker role as Jacob Liddle recovers from his horrific knee injury. One thing is certain, Robbie Farah won't be coming out of retirement, going out of his way to back Mbye as the club's starting hooker next year.

The race for the last two finals spots

Recruit growing restless

As this column reported on August 1, an in-form recruit at a Sydney club was unhappy in his new environment, particularly with the coach. Those whispers are getting louder and could result in a request for a release at the end of the season.

Wrestling with a conspiracy

Manly coach Des Hasler is known to be paranoid at the best of times. Now, we're not sure if he is responsible, however someone at the Sea Eagles heard that a group of journalists got in touch with one of the pioneer wrestling coaches in rugby league who worked with the Sea Eagles in the mid 1990s.

Given the uproar in regards to wrestling over the past fortnight, and the fact that the Sea Eagles square off against the Storm next week, the wrestling coach mysteriously pulled the pin on the interview with said group of journalists. Coincidence?

Kiwis take time to dine out

The Sydney-based New Zealand internationals gathered for dinner on Tuesday night to continue building the foundations of what coach Michael Maguire has been trying to instil with the national team.

The likes of Benji Marshall, Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran, Esan Marsters, James Fisher-Harris, Briton Nikora and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were all on deck ahead of busy representative calendar at the end of the year.

Should SBW have been picked in the Team of the Decade?

Decade-long debates

There were some interesting talking points out of this week's Team of the Decade unveiling, in particularly some of the choices from the judges.

Most assumed Craig Bellamy would have found room for Will Chambers in his centres, but he chose former Manly enforcer Steve Matai alongside Greg Inglis. It speaks volumes for the respect Bellamy had for the old Manly team that was a bitter rival of his Storm side for many years.

The other interesting talking points included Gorden Tallis leaving out Cooper Cronk in favour of a James Maloney-Johnathan Thurston halves combination. Phil Gould, who has long been a critic of Paul Gallen, couldn't find a spot for the former Blues captain in his best 17 despite working with him on Channel Nine's 100% Footy every Monday night.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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