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Knights coach Adam O'Brien.

On a Sunday afternoon last October, a week after the Roosters celebrated back-to-back titles, Adam O'Brien hopped on a train at Sydney's Central Station bound for Newcastle.

No home, no plans, just a bag and a desire to get started.

"I just wanted to feel part of it, I just had to go," he says.

His wife, Sharyn, a few days behind.

The day before the O'Brien's were scheduled to move into their new home in Charlestown, Sharyn hopped in the car from Sydney with their dog Coco and followed the removalists up the F3.

Problem was, the hotel in Lambton O'Brien was calling home didn't allow pets. Turns out not many did.

"I was starting to get stressed thinking 'shit, what are we going to do'," O'Brien recalls.

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"We were preparing to sleep in the car down at the beach."

However, a couple, who owned a bed and breakfast in Carrington, took them in for the night. And by the time they sat down for dinner at the pub owned by Silverchair's Chris Joannou later that evening, O'Brien got what he hopped on that train for.

He got Newcastle.

"A town of supporters, not fans," he said.

He got what Craig Bellamy told him he would when the Melbourne Storm coach urged him to take the job vacated by the departure of Nathan Brown.

"Not just go for it, run full steam ahead into it," O'Brien recalled of his conversations with Bellamy.

I see a lot of similarities to Trent Robinson, who for me is probably the top-shelf coach in my career

Mitchell Pearce on Adam O'Brien

"Craig played up here. He loves this town. His number one thing to me was 'they're your kind of people, and you're their kind of people'."

There are four people O'Brien confided in the most when deciding to become the next Knights coach.

Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Storm general manager Frank Ponissi and of course, Bellamy.

Their decade-long relationship extends beyond rugby league. It's why the Bellamy's spent New Year's Eve at the O'Brien's.

It's why the voice of arguably the greatest coach of the modern era still echoes through everything he has done in the few months he's been at the helm of the Knights.

"A team will end up being a reflection of the coach," Bellamy once told him.

That's why O'Brien is first man in, last man out.

Why he still sets up cones for drills. Why he cleans up after every session.

Why he wakes up at 4.30am every morning to do his own training.

"My big thing is, and I've said this to our staff, is that if we're going to ask something of the boys, we better be it," he said.

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"It's all I know. I began at the Storm washing clothes and setting up drills. There's no job beneath me here.

"If I go in there thinking my car park should be the first one at the door, I should get all these privileges ... that's not me. I drive around a Holden Colorado ute that has dust and shit all over it."

Knights captain Mitchell Pearce has formed an immediate bond, comparing his new coach to the first man to win back-to-back titles in almost three decades.

"I see a lot of similarities to Trent Robinson, who for me is probably the top-shelf coach in my career," Pearce said.

"Adzy's cut from the same cloth. He's my type of bloke, a real man's man. He's honest and doesn't bullshit. He's a straight shooter, and if you need a spray he will be the first one to give it to you. He treats the boys like men. Everyone is following the coach."

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The truth about how he got the job

O'Brien has often thought about contacting Nathan Brown. Perhaps, ringing the old Knights coach to clear the air?

"I've often thought should or shouldn't I?" O'Brien said.

"I don't want to see anyone get sacked, especially a guy who has got kids and a wife.

"But the truth is I don't have a guilty conscience. The contact was made to me. I didn't go chasing this job.

"I have a clear conscience because I know I didn't do him out of a job."

So how exactly did it all go down?

Some believe Brown had been a dead man walking for weeks before he fell on his sword, and that O'Brien had already been identified as his successor.

O'Brien insists that wasn't the case.

"Was I aware that people had been asking questions about me? Of course I did," he insists.

"Of course people in Melbourne are going to tell me 'we've had some phone calls asking about what you're like'.

"I knew that stuff was going on. That's not directly to me. That's hand on heart honesty. I knew there was flirting going on but at no stage – until Nathan quit – was it someone from the Knights talking to me."

It wasn't until the day Brown quit his post did the Knights reach out to O'Brien via his manager.

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The Roosters had just finished a training session down at Kippax Oval, when O'Brien returned to his phone and noticed several missed calls from his manager.

"I went directly into Robbo's [Roosters coach Trent Robinson] office and said I'm going to look further into this," O'Brien said.

"Let's be honest, initially he was like 'mate, I thought I had you for three years'. To be fair, Robbo had every right to be thinking 'holy shit, we are this close to getting where we want to get to, I don't need this right now'. But he didn't.

His number one thing to me was 'they're your kind of people, and you’re their kind of people

Adam O'Brien on Craig Bellamy's words about Newcastle

"I felt guilty around the timing, it wasn't ideal. In a perfect world, I would have loved to have sort things out after the grand final, but that's not my right, that's Nathan's right to do what he did."

"I get why the Roosters initially, and it was only a couple of guys who were a bit taken back, but there's only 16 of these jobs in the world and realistically for me, there was only two or three.

"This was one of those I couldn't turn down. Once I got to explain things to Nick Politis, the pressure, the media talk ... it just stopped. It was fine.

"We actually hugged and got on with it. Trent was excellent. He was supportive. He's been in this same position. He was at the Catalans when the Roosters came knocking, so he understood."

News of the Knights' interest in O'Brien came on the eve of the finals series, having the potential to prove as a major distraction for the Roosters in their bid for back-to-back premierships.

However, in his discussions with Robinson and Politis, O'Brien made two promises.

"One, I wouldn't go up to Newcastle," he said.

"I didn't want to put my energy into finding a house or any of that stuff. I told my missus I wouldn't even look at with her.

"And two, I wouldn't come out publicly and talk about the Knights. I told them 'I'm completely in on the journey'.

"The moment after the presentation night on the Thursday after the grand final, all my energy shifted. All my mind went from the Roosters to Newcastle."

Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce.
Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

Shooting for the stars

Throughout his coaching career, O'Brien has worked with some of the biggest names in the game. But all the ones he did had one thing in common.

"The superstars that I've worked with in Melbourne and the Roosters is that our superstars have been our best people too," he said.

"Some clubs don't have that – their superstars have some flaws. I feel like, and I know I'm only just starting, that our high profile guys are good people. That makes a huge difference."

His affiliation with the code's biggest names will continue when he takes the Knights' big three of Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and David Klemmer under his wing.

Regardless of Pearce and Klemmer's stature in the game, most eyes will be on the man in the No.1 jersey.

Ponga is considered by many as a once in a generation player, with fears already growing that perhaps his days in the 13-man code are numbered.

O'Brien knows that what he accomplishes at the Knights during his tenure could go a long way to determining Ponga's next move.

"My message to him is that I don't think he's anywhere near his ceiling yet, he still has things to achieve," O'Brien said.

"Whilst he is elite, he is not where he can get to. And he wants to get there. We're here now, so let's be the best we can be.

"Those other things can be there for him down the track – the rugby union and that – but whilst you're in this game you might as well be the best you can be.

"That goes for him when he stops playing footy and he chooses a career to get into. I think he's built this way anyway.

"Whatever he's going to do, you might as well be the best at it. And if it's not something you want to do, you might as well find something else to do."

Ponga had never even heard of O'Brien when he was appointed Brown's successor, but the pair have since started to forge a close relationship.

Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga.
Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"I honestly had no idea who he was," Ponga said.

"I didn't know he was an assistant coach at the Roosters. But when I heard where he had been, Melbourne and the Roosters, and the players he had worked with, that excited me. I want to win.

"Browny got me here and hopefully he can watch that and still feel part of that. But the way Adzy has come in and lifted the standards has been impressive. Things have definitely changed.

"The intensity is higher, and I think we brushed over a few things defensively last year. From the get-go this year we aren't going to and that's because of him.

"He's pretty good at understanding there's not just one coaching method when you have a group of boys that are all different. He understands everyone is different, and that goes a long way to getting the best out of each individual."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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