Knights players celebrate their win over the Warriors  in Newcastle
Knights players celebrate their win over the Warriors in Newcastle DARREN PATEMAN

Why there are bright days ahead for coach Brown and the Knights

IT is some small quirk that the two teams that give most and give consistently run first and last in the NRL.

A dozen professors couldn't work it out. Between them, the Storm and Knights take a blunt club to all those soft excuses that follow losses and infuriate fans.

Melbourne's professionalism is something grand. The Storm seem to understand better than any that the definition of professionalism is an obligation to continue doing things well even when you don't feel like doing them.

The energy and commitment never varies.

And why would it, they have a premiership to win.

Running from second down to 15th the attitude drifts into a grey twilight. So we get players telling us they "began flat" or there was "no energy". Coaches saying "we didn't turn up".

They have been used so often they are accepted without challenge now.

It is a fair question. Given they are professional footballers, trained to perform at their best for just 80 minutes a week, why can't some get there?

None of this explains the Knights.

For Melbourne, the goal is obvious. They have a premiership strength team and anything less than a premiership this season will be an underachievement.

 

Knights coach Nathan Brown
Knights coach Nathan Brown DAVE HUNT

That same goal motivates other teams, to varying degrees as you descend the ladder. There, it gets complicated as even coaches try to dim outside expectations by talking down their premiership chances, or exaggerating the limitations within their squad, all while trying to convince their players

The paradox was there on Saturday when the Knights, filled with journeymen and youth, took on the Warriors and their rich talent and donkey-licked them.

It is no small statement to say Warriors coach Stephen Kearney would pay handsomely for just a pinch of the commitment the Knights show.

The Knights were never going to win a premiership this season, though.

So Brown found something else, something tangible, and was clear about it.

Soon after landing at the Knights, Brown identified the personality of his team and town and went to work.

 

Nathan Ross in action against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium
Nathan Ross in action against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium DARREN PATEMAN

No team identifies so closely to its town as the Knights, a town filled with honest types who would rather work for a dollar than find a dollar. They remain proud of it.

Brown's first job was to get his players, most so young, to understand their town and who had come before them.

"We've tried really hard, when we first came here, to try and get the Knights back to how it was when Allan McMahon, David Waite, and then when Michael Hagan took over, they had a fair number of local kids who wanted to play for the team because they really liked the town," Brown told Triple M Sunday.

It was an education with slow reward.

"They are slowly understanding what a Danny Buderus, and what a Paul Harragon, a Tony Butterfield, what it meant for them to play for the club and they are really starting to appreciate that," he said.

 

Dane Gagai celebrates the Knights' win over the Warriors with Samuel Stone
Dane Gagai celebrates the Knights' win over the Warriors with Samuel Stone DARREN PATEMAN

The Knights were famously built on what they called the two Ts; toughness and tomorrows.

McMahon, the club's first coach, was not interested in a player unless he had both.

Brown figured out that the Knights needed something to play for bigger than wins, which would not come easily.

More importantly, was clear on that goal.

He appealed to something bigger than themselves. They had no choice but to buy in.

"They know that to become an NRL player they've got to work hard and keep trying to improve," he said.

"So every week they're striving to get better, and they don't see it as a job, as a chore, they actually know they've got to get better if they want to help the club get back to where it would like to be."

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