Could the remarkable career of one of rugby league's most successful coaches be about to come to an end?
There wouldn't be too many rugby league types in this town who haven't heard the name Rip Taylor.
He's in his 40th year as a coach and will tomorrow afternoon, give his 25th speech to his playing group before a grandfinal when his Wentworthville Magpies [Eels feeder club] take on Newtown in the NSW Cup decider at Bankwest Stadium.
What about this for a phenomenal record. Since beginning his coaching career with a drought-breaking premiership in the Group 2 competition with Bellingen back in 1980, Taylor's teams have been in 25 grandfinals, winning 12 premierships and in 40 years, he has contested 34 finals series.
Among those premiership wins were back-to-back titles with Lakes United in the Newcastle competition in 1985-86 and he was back at the Seagulls to take them to grandfinals in 2000, 2001 and 2002, winning the '01 title.
He made a Jersey Flegg grandfinal with the Knights in 2006 before going back-to-back with Parramatta/Wenty in NSW Cup and took Wyong to two deciders in 2015 and 2017.
Incredibly, his Magpies side finished the regular season this year in eighth place and will take on seventh-placed Newtown in the big one. But despite his success, Taylor is without a coaching gig for 2020 with the Eels taking back control of their Cup squad and making the current part-time coaching role fulltime.
"They have gone with a younger bloke and offered me an assistant's job which I've knocked back so, I'm not sure what I'm doing," Taylor, 60 said. "I still really enjoy coaching but we'll see. A win on Sunday would be nice."
Taylor brought in James Maloney to training this week to give his side another voice before the big one.
Scott Dureau said he was blown away by the generosity of Knights prop David Klemmer, who has donated his two $30,000 Blues' Origin match payments to Dureau to help him fight brain cancer.
"Klem wanted it kept private so all I will say about it is he is an incredible person,"Dureau told us.
The former Knights halfback, who is now on the club's coaching and development staff, is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment with blood tests every three weeks and scans every three months.
Simi's big rap
Just how big a talent is Knights junior Simi Sasagi?
A fair indication of how highly regarded he is was his selection in the Junior Kiwis Under 19's squad a few weeks ago even though he has played just 35 minutes of footy in Jersey Flegg all season due to stress fractures in his back.
Sasagi won't play but the Knights will still have three players, Starford Toa, Daniel Ticehurst and Christian Ma'anaima in the Kiwis side to meet the Aussie Schoolboys at Redcliffe tomorrow, prior to the Q Cup grandfinal.
Young Knights hooker Mitch Black is in the Aussies side with Cooper Jenkins forced out through injury.
With Rory Kostjasyn relinquishing the Knights' NSW Cup coaching job to work under Adam O'Brien in 2020, former Lakes premiership-winning coach Ian Bourke will take over.
One of the nicest blokes in the game, Bourkey has been assistant Cup coach for a number of years and is highly regarded. Tony Gleeson will coach Jersey Flegg Under 20's after assisting Dureau this season. Dureau will run the entire junior system.
Sometimes you can get recruitment horribly wrong. The Knights snubbing of a teenage Latrell Mitchell five or six years ago is a glaring example.
Mitchell never even made it into the Knights system but one player who did before being discarded without being given much of a chance to prove himself was young prop Max King, the grandson of St George great Johnny King. As he lines up tonight for the Melbourne Storm in the grandfinal qualifier against Mitchell and the Sydney Roosters at the SCG, King must be thinking being shown the door by the Knights a few years back was not such a bad thing.
Pickers eye Wests' best
If Wests Rosellas captain Luke Walsh was the best player in the Newcastle competition this season, his teammate Alex Langbridge wasn't too far behind.
The former Melbourne Storm Under 20's player showed just how big a threat he is in the club's grandfinal win over Cessnock. So it's hardly a surprise out-going coach Matt Lantry, who recruited the live-wire hooker from Wyong, wants to take him to new club Maitland next season. And he may not be the only Rosella in Lantry's sights. Former Knight Pat Mata'utia, a real force on Wests' right edge in his first year at the club, lives at Beresfield so the commute to Maitland may be more convenient. Playmaker Chad O'Donnell is another player who could well be in the Pickers' sights.
Lantry told us he would be respectful of Wests and what he helped build at the club but admitted he enjoys strong relationships with a number of players.
"I'm looking at bringing in four first graders and some other developing players but there is a player budget to stick to and no guarantees with anyone at this stage," he said. Pressed about Langbridge, Lantry said: "Alex is a real talent and a great leader so we'll be having a chat to him to see where he is at."
Meanwhile, we hear former Knights backrower Steve Simpson is keen to get involved with the Pickers and may come on board as an assistant.
One player who won't be at Wests next season is Kiwi prop Uti Baker, who has signed to play with the Central Butcher Boys.
Beaten in the preliminary final by Cessnock, Central have re-signed most of their current players but have been big movers in the player market as well.
Along with snaring former Knight Dylan Phythian, the club has also picked up Lakes pair Jack Kelly and Jamie Ghoulmieh and Lions centre Tim Christie.
Former Jets Youth player Regan Lundy has quit the Weston Bears in a blow to the club after a rumoured falling out with coach Kew Jaliens. Lundy, who the Bears thought was on board again, is telling teammates he is yet to decide on a new club but we hear he will play with Charlestown in 2020.
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