Ben Francis: NZ Warriors' decision to sign Nathan Brown, Phil Gould will make or break club

OPINION: Nathan Brown's appointment as the 11th full-time NZ Warriors head coach has left an underwhelming feeling.

By no means is that disrespectful towards Brown, but after such a lengthy process, management landed on the man many predicted would replace Stephen Kearney, when he was first spotted wearing a Warriors jersey during pre-season. 

The Warriors will insist that's far from the truth, but when asked about signing Brown and Phil Gould as a consultant, club owner Mark Robinson said it was the "best thing that's happened to the club in the last 20 years". 

That's a bold statement from an owner who is happy with the management team he's assembling, but these appointments could easily make or break the club. 

Brown's signing has been met with mixed reviews and they skew towards the negative side, due to his disappointing stint with Newcastle Knights from 2016-19. 

They just had one win in his first year, which resulted in a wooden spoon, then backed up the following year. In four seasons, they won just 26 percent of their matches. 

But is it fair to judge him on one job where he was appointed to rebuild an organisation? 

Of course not, especially when he's been around for nearly two decades, since being appointed coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2003 as a 29-year-old, when he looked more like a surfer than a footy star. 

In his six years at the joint-venture club, they made the playoffs four times, before he was sacked. He had stints in the UK, where he won the Challenge Cup with Huddersfield Giants and the Super League title with St Helens.

Nathan Brown during his coaching days at the Dragons.
Nathan Brown during his coaching days at the Dragons. Photo credit: Photosport

Take away his record in Newcastle, he has coached 344 games and won 195 of them, with 147 losses. 

Brown was tasked with rebuilding one of the worst rosters in NRL history and brought in many Origin stars, before parting ways at the end of 2019. 

Wayne Bennett, who had preceded Brown at the Knights, claimed Brown had undone all the good work he and owner Nathan Tinkler did. 

Brown responded: "If he [Bennett] thought with his big head, rather than his little head, I wouldn’t have had to rebuild the joint."

Google the story if you want to know more. 

Brown and current interim Todd Payten insist the Warriors don't need a Newcastle-style rebuild, with the latter claiming they're just a few pieces away. 

With about 10 players still off-contract next season, Brown is working hard behind the scenes with recruitment manager and good friend Peter O'Sullivan to bolster the roster for the 2021 season. 

Although targeting Dragons prop Jack de Belin, currently accused of sexual assault, has rubbed fans the wrong way and could split the playing group, he was first linked to the club when Kearney was at the helm.  

This has a similar feeling to when Matthew Elliott came in - an experienced coach who consistently made the playoffs and had big ideas - and didn't last.

Although Brown will have better players in his arsenal than Elliott, he knows the Warriors must become a consistent playoff team before they can capture the illustrious first title. 

Regardless of who the team brings in, 2021 looms as a massive challenge, with the Warriors face another possible season in Australia, especially with how COVID-19 is tracking across the Tasman.

Due to the pandemic, Brown was released from his technical adviser role, but was still tipped to land the coaching job when Kearney was sacked, even though the board said it wanted a 'super coach'. 

Bennett and Craig Bellamy were approached with no luck, before Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon was targeted, but quickly ruled out. 

Payten was offered the job, but turned it down and Brown - who had previously ruled himself out - came calling, ending a dramatic search that had more tension than the movie Armageddon

We will never know where Brown ranked on the Warriors' target list, but Robinson still appears happy with the outcome. 

NZ Warriors owner Mark Robinson.
NZ Warriors owner Mark Robinson. Photo credit: Photosport

Brown's biggest task will be trying to continue what Payten appears to have achieved in his brief tenure, getting the team to play with energy, heart and consistency - three things Warriors fans have wanted for years. 

As for Gould, his role is to tighten up the local pathways between the Warriors, NZ Rugby League, Auckland Rugby League and other regions. 

The Warriors have been guilty of neglecting outlying regions in the past and that must change... but this all comes back to feeling deflated. 

But after days of mulling, I'm neither happy nor sad about this appointment. I'm not sure what to think. 

Members of the rugby league community tell me they are good appointments, but like most, I'm falling into the trap of focusing on Newcastle too much.

The owners clearly have a plan and feel Brown is the right one to execute it. They've gone all in, but the gamble will end in one of two ways - we have an Elliott 2.0 or this really will be the "best thing that's happened to the club in the last 20 years".

Better even than two Grand Final appearances...

Ben Francis is Newshub online sports producer. Join us at 8pm Friday for live updates of the NZ Warriors v Penrith Panthers NRL clash.

Ben Francis: NZ Warriors' decision to sign Nathan Brown, Phil Gould will make or break club