Club leaders Aidan Guerra and Jamie Buhrer have dismissed reports of a toxic culture among Newcastle players and said they wanted to finish the season with Nathan Brown as their coach, even after their embarrassing loss to Wests Tigers last Saturday.
Brown and the Knights parted company on Tuesday, one week after he and Newcastle CEO Philip Gardner announced he would be leaving at the end of the season after four years at the club.
“I can only speak for myself here, but I feel like it wasn’t the way I wanted the season to end for the side or for Browny. We started the year together as Newcastle Knights, and I felt like we’d ride it out together,” Guerra said.
“The situation arose where Browny felt it was right to walk away with the good intentions of the club and you’ve got to accept that and accept him for who he is. He’s that kind of guy, and he’s going to do what he thinks is right for the club.”
Guerra and Buhrer, who Brown signed from the Roosters and Sea Eagles respectively, are members of Newcastle’s leadership group alongside Tim Glasby, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and captain Mitchell Pearce.
They were involved in separate meetings with Brown and Gardner on Monday and Tuesday as Brown insisted it was in the best interests of the club for him to leave immediately. After initially declining that request, Gardner eventually agreed.
“At the end of the day, all we can do is take the lessons that we’ve learnt from him – I’ve been here for two years but he’s been here for four – and try to put them into play this week,” said Guerra, who came off the bench against Wests Tigers and has been selected in the same role for Newcastle’s last home game against Gold Coast on Saturday.
“… You can’t learn new things in three or four days, so the style that we play on the weekend is going to be because of the coach that’s just departed. We couldn’t do it for him last week so we’ve got to show that his tenure here wasn’t in vain.”
Asked about a rift among players over their support of Brown, Guerra said: “There was nobody pushing him out”.
“As I said, with all the conversations that I had that either involved Browny or were about Browny, it was our intention to finish the season with him,” he said.
Speaking after the loss to Wests Tigers, and addressing the team’s insipid performance in a game they needed to win to keep their finals hopes alive, Brown said it highlighted the reasons why he was no longer the right coach for the Knights.
“I thought the best thing for this club was for him to finish the season but for whatever reason, he felt like that wasn’t the way and we’ve got to support him in that,” Guerra said.
“He’s supported us through multiple things, and not everyone gets everything right.
“He might have made the right call [and] we’ve just got to keep going without him now. We’ve got to take our lessons from him and try to put them into play against the Titans.”
Though he did not play last Saturday and has made only nine NRL appearances this season, Buhrer felt as disappointed about the events of the past week as anyone at the club.
“There’s no split, no divide, and we are all in this together,” Buhrer told reporters on Wednesday.
Buhrer said some of the club’s former players were well within their rights to be so outspoken about the team’s performance against Wests Tigers, but the current crop would still be inspired by their presence and boosted by their support against the Titans on Old Boys’ Day.
“This weekend is about representing our Old Boys and our fans who deserve our best performance. It’s our last home game in front of fans who have been incredibly loyal for such a long time, and they’ll remain loyal long after I’m gone,” Buhrer said.
“So our sole focus this weekend is ensuring we go out there and every individual gives 100 per cent, because it’s a very important day for Newcastle... We intend to represent the club and our fans with pride this weekend. We know what’s at stake, this being Old Boys’ Day.
“We know how important this is to our fans and we want to do everything we can to, I suppose, make up for what was unacceptable last week.”
Guerra acknowledged the role the team’s mixed results and fluctuating form played in Brown’s demise.
“It’s not the way we saw the season going, especially at the start,” Guerra said.
“We started with such hope and the belief that we were going to be a successful side, and as a by-product of us not being as successful as we liked, we’re faced with a pretty shitty ending.
“… It hasn’t gone to plan, and just about everyone throughout the organisation will have a look when the season’s over and reflect on what we could have done differently as individuals, and try to learn from these mistakes and go forward and get back to a side that’s full of hope and full of belief.”