Luckless Newcastle hooker Slade Griffin is set to be handed a pseudo wrestling coach role at the Knights to help turn around the club’s horrendous defensive record following revelations he is considered next to no hope of playing in the NRL next season.
Griffin’s chances of an on-field comeback in 2019 rest on the timing and success of a second operation to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
It is his fourth major knee surgery and there are no guarantees about his long term playing prospects.
But even if everything was to go to plan, Knights coach Nathan Brown believes it will be too big of an ask to expect Griffin to feature in the top grade next season..
“He has to see his specialist and if everything is really good healing-wise from his first operation, you’d expect with his next operation, if that goes well, he may play very late in the season,” Brown said.
“But I’d suggest it wouldn’t be in the NRL. He’d be aiming to have a few games at the back end in reserve grade.
“Even that would hinge on him being right to have the second operation straight away. If it hasn’t healed enough and he has got to wait another month or two, he’ll be struggling to even get back at all next year.”
But while Griffin’s playing future may be under a cloud, Brown is planning to at least utilise his defensive expertise as he formulates a plan to try and improve the club’s diabolical defence.
In the three seasons Brown has been at the helm during the club’s dramatic roster re-build, the Knights have conceded a staggering 2055 points, well over 1000 points more than the Melbourne Storm have given up over the same period.
While the team progressed in a lost of areas last season and finished a creditable 11th on the premiership ladder, they were still the second worst defensive side in the competition and it is the one area where a vast improvement is needed and is achievable.
Brown has reacted by bringing in a new assistant coach in current Tongan coach Kristian Woolf to overhaul the side’s defensive structures while NSW Cup coach Rory Kostjasyn and Griffin will also have a hands-on role with the top squad.
Brown confirmed Griffin will be charge of the club’s ruck defence and wrestle while he rehabs from his knee reconstruction.
The new job has the potential to provide him with a career lifeline with his current contract set to expire at the end of next season.
Asked about his chances of earning a new contract given the injury, Brown said:
“Slade will do the ruck defence and wrestle and do his rehab and see how everything goes and see how it all works out,” Brown said.
“When Slade was at the Storm, they considered him their best ruck defender and technically, their best wrestler and he was very clearly our best by a country mile so there is a potential lifeline there for him.
“The key for us is we want him to teach a few other guys how to do it effectively because it’s obviously an area where we have to get more proficient.
“I think everyone would agree if we are to take ourselves to a new level next season, we have to be a whole lot better defensively and clearly, it needs to be a real focus for us in the pre-season.”
- READ MORE: Newcastle Knights
New defensive staff is not the only significant change to a revamped football department that has been boosted with the addition of more resources by owners Wests.
The club’s dramatic injury toll last season has resulted in a major overhaul of the Knights’ high performance unit with former Warriors staffer Balin Cupples to head a beefed-up department.
“We have a lot of new staff,”Brown said.
“Balin has come in with three to work under him and we have a new physio so there will be a lot of new faces around.
“There is certainly a real buzz around the place.”