It is not uncommon for former players to progress into the coaching ranks after they retire.
Former Dragons, Rabbitohs and Knights NRL player George Ndaira, however, will play off the bench in this weekend’s grand final rematch against the Penrith Panthers – after being the assistant coach of Newcastle since 2014.
After a long playing career, Ndaira made the transition from the scrum into coaching ranks in 2012 when he captain-coached the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs in the local Newcastle Rugby League competition, before becoming the Knights’ VB NSW Cup assistant coach under Rick Stone last year.
Player departures and injuries for the Knights throughout the 2015 season prompted Ndaira to strap on the boots one more time, and since then his on-field presence has helped steer his side into Week Two of the finals.
“I’ve been retired for about 18 months,” explained Ndaira.
“Chad Redman went up to the Titans and then we had a few injuries. Just before June 30 I said to [Knights current coach Matt Lantry] ‘If you want me to play I will’, so I signed a little contract and the next thing you know, we had a few injuries, Danny Levi went up to first grade and I got my call-up. I’ve played in the team ever since.”
After sitting on the sideline in the 2014 VB NSW Cup Grand Final against the Panthers as a member of the Knights’ coaching staff, he will pull on the jersey this weekend against the same team for a chance to avenge last year’s defeat and advance into the preliminary finals.
“Penrith are a good team. We played them in the grand final last year, so it would be good to hopefully try and go out there and get up against them,” said Ndaira.
“But we’ve just got to worry about ourselves. That’s the big thing this year with our team. If we worry about ourselves and get that sorted then we’ll have a half-decent shot.”
Ndaira was instrumental in the Knights’ 45-6 victory over the Manly Sea Eagles last week, and the fact they went down to the same opposition just a week earlier makes the win even more impressive.
“It was hard because we played them [the week before], but then it was good to go out there and fix a few things that we worked on during the week,” said Ndaira.
“We were disappointed in the way we played [in Round 25], so it was just good to go out there and play some good footy, get the win and move on to next week.”
Scoring 45 points in a finals match is an impressive feat, however the Knights will have to answer to the defensive prowess of the Panthers come Sunday afternoon.
When asked what the future holds for Ndaira, he seemed pretty certain of his intentions towards playing beyond 2015.
“I think this might be it again, my second retirement after this season ends.”