DARREN Mooney’s understated presence at the Knights for the past three seasons is best evidenced by the Newcastle Herald’s archives, which include only one photo of him, snapped six years ago, at his previous club, Cronulla.
In other words, during his entire Newcastle tenure, for whatever reason we did not take a single picture of the club’s head of football.
In contrast, hundreds of images of Knights coach Nathan Brown are in our system for easy reference.
That anomaly would presumably sit comfortably with Mooney.
He might have worked hand-in-glove with Brown, but he was certainly no limelight seeker. Popular with players and staff alike, he got his job done with a minimum of fuss or fanfare.
And a crucial job it was, too.
When Brown first arrived at the Knights, one of the first staff members to move on was the club’s then director of football, Hall of Fame captain and coach Michael Hagan.
Mooney was soon hired to replace Hagan and entrusted with the job of blowing up Newcastle’s salary cap, and rebuilding it with components that would help deliver long-term success.
His work at Cronulla had apparently attracted Brown’s attention.
The Sharks had assembled a formidable squad who would proceed to deliver the club’s maiden premiership in 2016.
While allegations surfaced recently that prompted a salary-cap investigation, the NRL has indicated it intends to interview coach Shane Flanagan, former chairman Damian Keogh and ex-CEO Lyall Gorman, with no mention of Mooney.
Mooney endured some tough times at Cronulla, in particular when he was stood down for almost 12 months and then ultimately reinstated after the ASADA peptides scandal, and perhaps that steeled him for the challenge in Newcastle.
At the time he joined the Knights, they were the incumbent wooden spooners, had shuffled through four head coaches in little more than a year, and had a squad locked in that would win only one game in 2016.
They finished last again in 2017, but along the way Mooney negotiated the deals that brought the likes of Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson, Herman Ese’ese, Aidan Guerra and Slade Griffin to town.
On his recommendation, the Knights this year signed Cronulla centre Jesse Ramien, who at the time had played one NRL game. They have since added Melbourne prop Tim Glasby and Sharks winger Edrick Lee.
Brown and Knights chief executive Phil Gardner have continually sung Mooney’s praises over the past year, so it came as a significant shock over the weekend when the 50-year-old revealed he was parting company with the club, explaining that he was “worn out” and wanted to spend more time with his family.
“If the club goes on to future success it will in no small part be due to his tireless efforts across all aspects of the football department over the last three years,” Gardner said on Monday, adding that he had started fielding expressions of interest and wanted to “move quickly” to fill the vacant position.
It is understood Newcastle officials already have a preferred candidate in mind for what nowadays rates as one of the most important roles in any club.
Former Knights coach Brian Smith once described managing the salary cap as “like doing a jigsaw puzzle on roller skates”.
Darren Mooney has shown he possesses a rare knack for putting key pieces in place while simultaneously maintaining his balance.
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