Despite reports of a rift between the players and the coach, Knights captain Mitchell Pearce and Nathan Brown went out for dinner together in Newcastle on Tuesday night.
In a reflection of the strength of their relationship, NRL.com can reveal Pearce and Brown had a heart-to-heart just a few hours after the coach walked away from the club, effective immediately.
Pearce had been criticised for not showing enough support for Brown since he announced last week that he'd be leaving at season's end with the team suffering a 46-4 thrashing at the hands of the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown on Saturday.
However, the coach spent his first night as a free agent with the man he made skipper when Pearce joined the Knights from the Roosters last year.
Pearce has been the Knights’ best player this year, winning man of the match honours in most of their victories this season.
While there is no doubt the Knights’ performance against the Wests Tigers last Saturday fast-tracked Brown’s exit, the suggestion the players deliberately white-anted their coach seem off the mark.
Knights chief executive Phil Gardner sent a letter to club members on Wednesday morning, defending the halfback and insisting he played no part in Brown’s demise.
“I must stress, Mitchell is not responsible for what is happening at the club and is hurting as much as anyone,” Gardner said.
Pearce: We let the coach down
“He is a winner and loves playing this game. He has been honest in his assessment of his own performances in recent weeks. There is little more you can ask from him as a leader. We find ourselves in this situation for one reason and that’s down to the results.”
The fact the Knights have won two of their last 10 games has been somewhat lost in the discussion around the way in which Newcastle handled the situation.
However few could argue the right decision has been reached, regardless of how they got there.
It’s also understood prop David Klemmer sent Brown a text message on Tuesday night thanking the coach for bringing him to the club and all he had done for him during his brief stint in the Hunter.
Klemmer has been linked to Brown's departure based on the fact his agent is Isaac Moses, who also manages coach-in-waiting Adam O’Brien.
However, NRL.com understands the prop has no ties to O’Brien and hasn’t been involved in any push to bring him to the club despite what his manager is doing behind the scenes.
Kalyn Ponga has also apologised to Brown and his teammates for the strawberry thickshake comment made last week, and will do so publicly when he appears on Fox League’s coverage on Thursday night.
Ponga recognised his poor choice of words and has been hurt by the claims of disrespect given the high opinion he has of the coach.
Knights CEO addresses media
The Queensland representative was trying to play down the severity of the coach’s departure because Brown fronted the players before their media commitments and asked them not to defend him or feel sorry for him.
The Knights players gathered on Wednesday morning on day one of the post-Brown era, with Pearce and the senior players addressing the young squad to demand the best from the team in the final two weeks of the regular season.
While they are long odds to make the finals after last week’s loss to the Tigers, the Knights want to restore pride in the jersey – especially on Old Boys’ day this weekend.