As the Knights prepare for interviews for the coaching position next week, Garth Brennan, the man Wayne Bennett punted from the club three years ago, firms as a favourite to become his successor.
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said on Tuesday the club would not base its decision purely on Bennett's advice, despite the Dragons (Steve Price) and Broncos (Ivan Henjak) previously replacing the master coach with his recommendations.
Gidley recently met with Penrith supremo Phil Gould to discuss a range of topics, including the coaching ability of the Panthers' NSW Cup coach.
Brennan, who led Penrith's Holden Cup team to premiership success last year, is one of the leading candidates on a shortlist - which includes former Knights coach Rick Stone, Neil Henry, Brett Kimmorley, Terry Matterson and unwanted Broncos coach Anthony Griffin - to replace Bennett.
In a boost for Brennan's chances, Gidley said Bennett's advice would not be a major factor when the Knights sit down for interviews after finalising their shortlist by the end of this week.
"We've had a number of discussions with Wayne on his view of our club and the game in general," Gidley said.
"I appreciate him putting his thoughts forward but it's important we make the right decision for our club. Whilst we'll certainly consider all Wayne's advice, we're certainly not going to go run around making appointments purely based on that either. We certainly respect his opinion, there's no doubt, but we're adamant that we'll make the decision on what's best for our club."
Like Brennan, Dragons coach Paul McGregor was also banished when Bennett joined St George Illawarra in 2009, but is making the most of his opportunity after taking on the top job following Price's sacking six weeks ago.
Brennan left the Knights at the end of 2011 after Bennett told him his services were longer required in his home town, despite leading Newcastle's under-20's team to their first semi-finals appearance that same year.
Gould and Ivan Cleary then threw the former police officer a second chance at the Panthers, with Brennan repaying the faith with an under-20's premiership in just his second year. He is now coaching the table-topping Panthers NSW Cup team.
"I think he's definitely up to it ... he's definitely a first-grade coach in waiting," Cleary said.
"He's quite well rounded as a coach. He's got a good knowledge of the game, he's worked under a few different coaching systems and picked up a lot along the way. He's got his own format and method that he sticks to and works for him. He's very consistent in how he delivers and what he wants.
"Certainly the players understand what he wants and what he doesn't. He also has a good rapport with the players and gets along well with them. He's got very high standards. I couldn't say enough about him. I think he's definitely ready for the challenge."
While Brennan couldn't ask for much more than to have Gould and Cleary in his corner, he also has a proven track record of developing some of the game's best young talent, including Bryce Cartwright, James Roberts, Isaah Yeo, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Boyd Cordner.
Cordner was coached by Brennan at Newcastle when he joined the Knights from Taree in the Harold Matthews Cup and described him as one of the best coaches he's played under.
"I can't speak highly enough of him as a coach," Cordner said.
"Still to this day, I tell people that he's one of the best coaches I've ever had. For me personally, he's a coach that you want to play for. He's a real smart football coach, but away from footy he knows how to get the best out of you and the best out of players. It always makes a massive difference if you can get your players to want to play for you. That's something Garth has.
"He had that aura about him that whenever he said something, you listened and took everything on board. I think he would suit that Knights job perfectly. He knows the club back to front. You talk about Brenno, everyone loves him. I think they'd all welcome him back with open arms."
Brennan's wife owns a law firm in Newcastle and he also recently finished building a house in the area.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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