After making the finals in both of his first two seasons as an NRL coach, you could forgive Knights fans for thinking they're finally through the dark times, however Adam O'Brien is skating on thin ice in Newcastle.

The club finished 7th in 2020 and 2021, the first time Newcastle had made the finals in consecutive seasons since 2002-03, yet plummeted to 14th last season, and the worst part of 2022 wasn't the end ladder position.

In the space of three weeks, Newcastle were forced to stand down Bradman Best, Enari Tuala, David Klemmer, Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann for at least a game each due to various reasons, however O'Brien remained in the thick of it all.

Newcastle Knights Training Session
NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: Adam O'Brien coach of the Newcastle Knights during a Newcastle Knights NRL training session at Newcastle on February 06, 2020 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2023 NRL season, the Newcastle head coach is a short-priced favourite to be the first coach sacked, up there alongside Anthony Griffin, Kevin Walters and Justin Holbrook, all of which are under immense pressure.

However it's the Knights' latest roster move that should have fans panicking big time.

Newcastle needed a fullback, simple as that, and Lachie Miller was the best man available. It started out as a no-brainer, a solid deal for the club.

However trading Max Bradbury, a 20-year-old NSW U19s representative prop with a big future on the horizon, to snare a 28-year-old fullback on a three-year deal is simply bad business.

Unless you're in O'Brien's shoes.

For the majority of NRL fans, there isn't much difference between finishing 11th and 15th. Sure, you're a few spots higher but in the context of the season, at the end of the day, you missed the finals.

No one remembers if you finished 11th, 13th or 15th, because, simply put, you missed the top eight.

But it matters to O'Brien when there's a job on the line.

The difference between 11th and 15th for the head coach might be the difference between getting the immediate sack, and getting a final warning and a 'last chance' over the opening rounds of 2024.

NRL Semi Final 2 - Sharks v Rabbitohs
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Lachlan Miller of the Sharks looks on during the NRL Semi Final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 17, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

However, with Will Pryce making the move from dreary Huddersfield to the warm beaches of Newcastle next year, the young Englishman will likely walk into the spine and force Miller out of it.

So essentially, the club has traded a decade-long prospect in Bradbury for what will likely be a singular full NRL season from Miller in a rebuilding year, all for the sake of an extra two or three wins that won't prove relevant at season's end.

Despite leaving the club over eight years ago, Newcastle fans may as well start calling Wayne Bennett 'Voldemort' the way he-who-must-not-be-named gets hissed and booed by sheer mention around town, for the way he left the Newcastle roster.

However, is Adam O'Brien leaving it any better?

Kalyn Ponga re-signed on a five-year, seven-figures-per-season deal with Newcastle last season, but it's shaping as $5 million+ that the fullback can spend on his lifestyle.

Sure, the club was crying out for a halfback, and Jackson Hastings is a good get, but was it worth trading your best forward for?

Now, with Cronulla yesterday confirming Bradbury on a two-year deal, the head coach has done it again.

Time and time again, O'Brien has leveraged the Newcastle Knights future for a few cheap, quick wins, buying himself time, but for what?

It's hard to admit, especially when your job is to rock up and train an NRL squad, but Newcastle won't be making a big indent into the finals this year. They are rebuilding and that's perfectly fine, but call a spade a spade.

So instead of going into 'win now' mode like they're the Dallas Mavericks, build combinations, develop youth, ensure that when you are rebuilt, you can hit the ground running instead of starting the processes too late.

The future of the Knights is worth finishing 15th instead of 11th if you're going to miss the finals anyway.

Sometimes you have to put the club before yourself, but hey, at least he's been to four grand finals.


  1. Depends on what the board have said to him. If they have said “improve this year, at all costs” then he is doing what he has been asked to do.

    In fairness, you cannot hold AOB responsible for Mitchell Pearce walking out on his contract and leaving the club without its half-back, as happened last year.

    Secondly, we don’t know how Miller will go. He has played 1, 2 and 7. He gives the club cover in key positions, and if he has a good year, maybe Will Pryce will be the one providing the cover in depth.

    I take your point about Max Bradbury, but if the club wants results NOW, then AOB is doing the right thing.

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