Sydney Roosters assistant Adam O’Brien is firming to become the Newcastle Knights’ new head coach, with a clause in his contract allowing him to walk away to pursue a head coaching role immediately, according to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Current Knights coach Nathan Brown revealed on Monday that he would be quitting the club at the end of the season, despite his team sitting just two points out of the top eight.
It is believed that a secret meeting between Knights list manager Troy Pezet, O’Brien and his manager Isaac Moses was the reason behind Brown’s sudden announcement.
O’Brien and Moses have denied the rumours of any meeting while Pezet has refused to take calls on the matter.
O’Brien is the favourite for the Newcastle job after another Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon ruled himself out of the running and the NRL has deemed deregistered former Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is not up for consideration.
The Roosters are reportedly frustrated with the current circumstances, given O’Brien is just nine months into his three-year deal and the club are just three weeks away from finals.
Sydney were initially hesitant to include the get-out clause in O’Brien’s contract and were looking for stability in the coaches’ box, but the club claims the former Melbourne assistant promised to remain at the club until at least the end of his second season.
O’Brien has rejected the claims, denying that he made any such promise.
The Roosters are eager to rectify the situation quickly in order to avoid any distractions during the club’s finals campaign, and Sydney’s head coach Trent Robinson will be left to make the decision on O’Brien.
Adding more fuel to the fire is the fallout between Roosters Chairman Nick Politis and O’Brien’s manager Isaac Moses, with the latter embroiled in a scandal over Sydney fullback James Tedesco’s contract.
O’Brien’s expected departure to the Knights has caught the Roosters off-guard despite the assistant turning down multiple offers in the past 12 months.
O’Brien left the Storm at the end of last season after serving 12 years at the club, requesting an early release from his contract to learn under a new coach in a new system, leading him to Robinson, a now two-time premiership coach.
O’Brien’s arrival in Sydney was endorsed by Rooster Cooper Cronk, who had played under him at Melbourne. Media personality and former Newcastle star Matty Johns is also a strong supporter of O’Brien and has a valued opinion at the Knights.
O’Brien has made an instant impact at the Roosters, with his offence currently leading the league in scoring and he has developed a strong relationship with the playing group.
With Sydney on the brink of becoming the first back-to-back winners since the Bronco’s in 1992-93, O’Brien’s departure, whether it be immediately or at season’s end, would be a huge blow to the club.