O’Brien hunts six to take burden off Pearce
NEWCASTLE coach Adam O'Brien says his first point of business is to find a consistent halves partner for NSW Origin incumbent Mitchell Pearce, conceding the club relied too heavily on their No.7 in 2019.
Speaking after the Knights first pre-season raining session on Wednesday, O'Brien revealed New Zealand teenager Phoenix Crossland and utility Kurt Mann as the early favourites for the Knights No.6 jersey.
However, the incoming coach added that Connor Watson was also a contender for the contentious position that saw no less than five players partner Pearce last year - including the failed Kalyn Ponga experiment.
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"There was a heavy reliance on Mitchell last year," O'Brien conceded. "And we need to move away from him (Pearce) needing to be a nine out of 10 for us to win.
"My perception at the moment is that Mitchell needs to play well for us to win.
"So game day, what happens if he wakes up and feels crook? Do we not play?
"I need someone to … you're a team, a squad and I need to get everyone playing to a higher level in and around him.
"Guys like KP (Ponga) are the same.
"We won't be a team that's just throw the ball to Mitchell or throw the ball to KP and hope something happens.
"Everyone will know their role.
"It's a good squad and that's the way we should be treating it. Not simply that it's a good spine."
While Crossland has played just one game of NRL off the bench, O'Brien said he was happy with what he had already seen from the 19-year-old New Zealand product.
"Really happy with young Phoenix," the coach said. "I have a plan around (the No.6 jersey) with Phoenix and Kurt Mann the two I'm leaning towards at the moment.
"But in saying that, Connor adds so much to us in that X-factor role and he could be a guy that jumps out at six.
"I see him a little bit like Cameron Munster in the early days.
"The good thing is we've got options there."
And as for how quickly the five-eighth decision needs to be made?
"As early as I need to get the right selection," the coach continued. "It's a good question - and I understand it - given the earlier I do it the better that person gets equipped for the job.
"But they also need the time to do it, so I won't make a rushed decision.
"I will give everyone equal opportunity to show what they can do, then I'll make the right decision rather than the quick one."
O'Brien confirmed he also wanted to bring some consistency to said halves partnership.
"I'd prefer to pick and stick," he said. "But to a degree.
"If it's around effort, I can quickly make a change. But if it is around execution, it's up to me to make sure I'm helping them and lifting the level of skill in their game so they can perform.
"Certainly you need a block of time to do that, to go 'this is yours and you have a certain amount of time'.
"So it's about empowering the young blokes.
"If you're constantly on them about the job being theirs for a week you're going to get peaks and troughs in performance."