SINCE Nathan Brown arrived at the Knights three years ago, he has never shied away from one of the more thankless tasks a head coach must occasionally undertake – moving on players he feels are surplus to requirements.
As he said on the day his appointment was announced: “Some [decisions] aren't nice and you don’t necessarily like making them. But it’s just part of the business.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make some hard calls to move forward.”
In due course contracted players like Chris Houston, Adam Clydsdale, Jake Mamo, Akuila Uate and Trent Hodkinson received taps on the shoulder, and eventually partial payouts that encouraged them to make fresh starts elsewhere. Jack Stockwell was also considered expendable but opted to sit tight and honour his lucrative contract.
After Hodkinson left in February to join Cronulla, the bulk of his $850,000 salary paid up front by the Knights, Brown said he would “like to think the days of that happening here are pretty much done now”.
He pointed out that all Newcastle’s incumbent players had either been recruited or retained on his watch. The only way any would be directed to the back door ahead of schedule was “if we make a bad business decision”.
He expressed similar sentiments mid-season in dismissing speculation that the Knights were shopping around five-eighth Connor Watson, who signed for three years at the end of 2017.
“I believe there is a credibility factor there as a coach in making sure you get your recruitment decisions right and then standing by them,” Brown told the Newcastle Herald at the time.
Now it appears that, in the case of Nathan Ross, Brown might be willing to make an exception to his preferred policy.
Houston, Uate, Hodkinson and company were part of the roster, and by all accounts the salary cap mess, Brown inherited, whereas Ross signed a two-year deal last year that ties him to the Knights until the end of 2021.
At the time, he was Newcastle’s leading tryscorer, a City Origin representative and a crowd favourite at McDonald Jones Stadium.
His extended tenure was announced in a newspaper headline that declared: “Knight for life.”
Fourteen months later, it came as a something of surprise to learn this week Ross has been advised that it might be in his best interests to pursue other options.
The 29-year-old has endured a disappointing year, scoring only two tries in 14 games and missing the final four rounds with a groin injury that required surgery.
In the meantime, the underrated Ken Sio made the most of his opportunities, scoring 12 tries.
Throw in Newcastle’s two signings from Cronulla, Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee, along with Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Sione Mata’utia and Tautau Moga, providing he recovers from a fourth knee reconstruction, and it would seem that Brown has reached the view that Ross is unlikely to feature in his full-strength backline.
In that case, giving the “Rossdog” a heads-up might actually be doing him a favour, especially if there are rival clubs who view him as a certain starter.
Ross, of course, is under no obligation to go anywhere.
He’s entitled to stay and fight for his spot. This, after all, is the man who continued to chase his dream even after master coach Wayne Bennett told him to stick to working in the mines.
Now there is a sense of deja vu. Brown clearly has had second thoughts about the business decision he made last year, and it remains to be seen if Ross can prove him wrong.
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