Newcastle Knights coach Adam O'Brien is entering the 2023 season a man under siege.

It's fair to say when you run the rule over all 17 coaches in the NRL, that only three seemingly stand a realistic chance of losing their jobs early in the season.

O'Brien, at the Knights, heads the list, and is closely followed by Justin Holbrook on the Gold Coast, with Anthony Griffin at the St George Illawarra Dragons also clearly on the list.

Griffin, while avoiding the bottom four last year, is in the final year of his contract and hasn't achieved success during his two years at the Red V, while Holbrook's Titans had an abysmal fade away in 2022 following some recruitment and retention decisions which backfired in the worst way imaginable.

O'Brien could be under more pressure than both of those coaches though, and while there has been no talk over his future in the role other than to say he is safe, it's hard to imagine there isn't internal pressure being applied to the coach, and that the pressure will only increase in a downward direction should Newcastle have a poor start to the 2023 campaign.

Despite that, the under-siege coach, of course, deserves plenty of credit for what he has been able to do in the Hunter.

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)

Taking over from Nathan Brown for the 2020 season, he guided the Knights back to the finals in his first season, and then kept them there in his second. Last year though, the Knights fell away to finish 14th on the table.

If the warning signs weren't there during their finals run of 2021, it might have come as a surprise, but unfortunately, the warning signs were evident. Making the finals only served to paper over the cracks for the side who have the NRL's best fan base.

2021 was a year where, despite making the finals, the Knights held one of the NRL's worst attacking records.

They were the anomaly of the top eight in a season where points, speed and rules all changed. The game was played at a lightning pace in 2021, and yet, despite scoring 138 fewer points than the Eels, who have the top eight's second-worst attacking record, the Knights made the finals by a comfortable four competition points.

So bad was their attacking record that seven of the eight teams who finished outside of the top eight scored more points than them, only the hapless Bulldogs scoring less.

It was defence that got the Knights through to the finals, and while the saying goes defence wins premierships, that can only get you so far if you're spending so much of the game at the wrong end of the park.

2022 was more of the same - and worse - for the Knights. It was a horrendous year with the football in hand for the club. They weren't aided by injuries to Kalyn Ponga and a revolving door in the halves, but it was still a continuation of the previous year's attacking woes.

Poor recruitment and retention in the key spots, no attempt to improve on the previous seasons and, watching the side attack, seemingly no fresh ideas.

Sure, David Klemmer was their best player in 2022, the Saifiti brothers fell away from their best and other injuries hampered the side, but they were a walking nightmare in attack.

By the time it was all done, the men in red and blue had registered just 372 points - 15.5 per game. In total, they finished marginally ahead of wooden spooners the Wests Tigers on points for, but didn't beat anyone else.

Even the Bulldogs scored 11 points more than the Knights throughout the course of the season.

So, after two seasons where they have struggled with the football in hand, it's no surprise to see the Knights looking to blow up the team and start again.

Jackson Hastings arrives in a player swap with David Klemmer that, despite Klemmer's form, probably made sense for both clubs. Kalyn Ponga is, by all reports, going to have another crack at moving to the halves, and while Newcastle have internal options to play number one, what they desperately need is a fresh start.

Bailey Hodgson and Dane Gagai, who are both already at the club, would probably do a serviceable job, but a fresh start is going to come in the way of Cronulla Sharks' fullback Lachlan Miller.

The deal is yet to be done, but reports say it nearly is, and could be by the time you're reading this.

Regardless, the move for Miller is a smart one, while also being a last roll of the dice for the club and battling coach.

Miller is battling to find any game time at the Sharks, stuck behind William Kennedy, with Kade Dykes also pushing his way into contention, so it also makes sense for Craig Fitzgibbon's side to allow the release, although it's understood they are swapping for a player swap.

But if that's what the Sharks want, then the Knights should be biting their hand off and giving away almost anything to get the deal done.

That's how important Miller is.

In his seven first-grade games during his debut season following a switch from the Australian Rugby Sevens set-up, Miller scored three tries, added offloads, defended well at both fullback and wing, and more importantly ran for 148 metres per game on average, with some select performances well above that.

His debut, against the Titans, was one to remember with a figure well over the 200-metre barrier as he made an immediate impact in replacing an at that point injured Kennedy.

He was a tackle-breaking machine too, and his evasiveness and difficulty to tackle is something the Knights desperately need at the back.

But add to that, the ability to move Kalyn Ponga into the halves, and this move just makes sense on so many levels for the Knights.

Ponga moving to the halves is something that has been trialled before, and while there are question marks over whether he will combine well with Hastings, if the duo can work it out, then it will be a winning move that could finally springboard the Knights' attack back to life.

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That's not to say they will suddenly be the best attacking team in the competition, but with some really solid defensive players leading the way and a pack of forwards who should be better than they showed last year bolstered by the addition of Adam Elliott, Miller's signing feels like one which could, if it all goes to plan, be the gel which turns the Knights into a side who can battle for a spot in the finals.

It's a risky move to hand the keys to the team's most important position to a seven-game player, while moving your best player to a new position, but the Knights have to do something.

When your ceiling is likely to be battling for a spot in the finals and the numbers so clearly point towards the big problem, you simply can't keep the status quo.

Without Miller and risking the change, they more or less feel destined to another poor season of attack, a wooden spoon, and probably, the end of O'Brien.

So for the coach and his future, it's Miller or bust.