The life of a NRL coach can be hellish. When at the helm of a team in form, things smell pretty good. String together a handful of wins and the fans go bananas; watching their boys climb the ladder and loom into semi-final contention.
Alternatively, suffer a sequence of disappointing losses whilst making a few contentious selection decisions and watch the hungry media climb aboard; eager to raise the uncomfortable question of whether a coach is ‘safe’ in their role for the following season.
The past few days have seen both scenarios play out.
Nathan Brown inherited a young, inexperienced and floundering team in Newcastle when he took on the head coaching role in 2016. After an impressive time in the United Kingdom with St Helens, Brown had developed a reputation of promise and many felt the time was right for his return to the NRL.
Since, he has overseen a significant rebuild and appeared to have the Knights well on track to success this season despite a wobbly start to the campaign. After just one win in the first six rounds, the men from the Hunter rattled off six consecutive mid-season victories and launched themselves into serious top-eight contention.
Then, true to their inconsistency over the last three seasons, the Knights derailed. In fact, it could be said that the train crashed sensationally into a nearby mountain and exploded into a million pieces; so dramatic was the collapse.
Seven losses from nine matches, appalling efforts against the Storm and Roosters and a Round 20 capitulation against the Sea Eagles, eventually forced the clubs’ hand and Brown was categorically told that he was not wanted beyond 2019.
The 46-year-old has a 26 per cent winning record over the course of his coaching tenure in Newcastle and whilst rebuilding and attempting to develop players, such a figure is unsustainable for a well-resourced and proud club such as the Knights.
In short, he had to go. By now, with the talent in their squad and after setting the season up so well through June, Newcastle should be locked into a semi-final position.
They are not and the man that many Newcastle fans feel is a little out of his depth as a first-grade mentor has fallen on his sword.
The Knights still have a remote chance of stumbling into the top eight, highly unlikely really considering their recent form, yet they are not the only team sniffing around praying for a statistical miracle.
Canterbury-Bankstown has come from the clouds over the last two months. The bookmakers will be counting their winnings after securing countless investments made on the presumption that the youthful and shallow Bulldogs squad would lock up the wooden spoon comfortably.
That presumption has proven far from the reality and the Titans have instead excelled in that area, despite the blue and whites doing a good impression of a last-placed team earlier in the season.
After 14 rounds of play, the Bulldogs enjoyed just three wins, a duo of embarrassing hidings at the hands of the Dragons and a thumping from the Warriors in the opening round.
There were consistent barks and howls emanating from the kennel with many whispering that Pay had immense problems with communication and was finding it difficult to articulate his messages to players.
Moreover, fans were mystified at some of his selections. Young star Lachlan Lewis spent numerous weeks in Canterbury Cup, Nick Meaney was shifted out to the wing after impressing at fullback before the arrival of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and the hooking battle between Michael Lichaa and Jeremy Marshall-King became something rather odd, as Pay consistently chopped and changed between them.
All the while, Kieran Foran threatened to make a significant impact before succumbing three times to annoying injuries and young Jack Cogger took over a key role in the halves with the coach clearly looking towards the future.
Whilst many in the Bulldogs’ faithful felt the coach had gone barking mad; potentially suffering the effects of the thousands of scrums he packed into in a 184-game NRL career, they don’t think that now.
For the Bulldogs, something has clicked. The hard work has begun to pay off and they are roaring home. Most impressive is the fact that the five recent wins from their last seven matches have come against teams in the frantic chase for top eight positions.
The Sharks were the first victim in the resurgence, followed by Brown’s Knights, the Panthers, Tigers and last week saw a superb victory over the Rabbitohs. Even the powerful Roosters struggled to put the Dogs away at ANZ Stadium in Round 19.
In the cut-throat world of NRL coaching, Dean Pay has his head above water for the time being. Paul McGregor, Stephen Kearney and Paul Green are treading water and Nathan Brown has been well and truly submerged.
The fine line between success and failure sees coaches dumped regularly and this time around it is Brown’s turn. In a few weeks, it will someone else yet probably not Dean Pay.