Newcastle Knights, Connor Watson, Adam O’Brien, rift among players and coaching staff

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Connor Watson’s switch from the Knights to the Roosters for significantly less money has led to suggestions of a rift between the club’s players and coaching staff led by head coach Adam O’Brien.

Speaking on NRL360, Fox League reporter James Hooper revealed how the Knights had tied themselves in knots in their negotiations with Watson.

The utility tested his value and opted for a cheaper two-year deal at $300,000-a-season rather than the stability of a three-year deal worth around $350,000-a-year at the Knights.

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“This story lends itself to the fact that there might be a bit of a bad scene unfolding at the Knights at the moment,” Hooper said.

“I’m not sure the playing group and coaching staff are all on the same page.

“The way it has unfolded is that they had a team meeting and Connor at the end of that, opted to tell the playing group and coaches that he had an announcement that he had decided to sign with the Sydney Roosters.

“I think that blindsided quite a few of the club officials and as a result, he will head off to the Chooks.

“I think where the Knights dropped the ball in negotiations is that they underarmed Connor, worth half of what he’s on next season.

“That’s why he sought out Trent Robinson who he has a relationship with having spent time with the Roosters for a few season. He did a deal on his own, because he has no manager. I think it came as quite a shock to the Knights players when he announced it today.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley said Newcastle’s inability to retain Watson raised red flags.

“It’s a major concern for the Knights because usually if a player is in your system you’d expect to get them at a bargain price,” Crawley said.

“In this instance he’s gone to the Roosters for less money. I can understand that, but it’s bad for the Knights and their salary cap management looking forward.”

Hooper said the exit of Watson raised concerns over the future of superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga.

“The other element in all of this is that Watson is best mates with Kalyn Ponga who is also going to be a free agent for other clubs to approach as of November 1,” Hooper said.

“Again, there’s a bit going up there at Newcastle at the moment.”

Paul Kent downplayed whether Watson leaving would impact Ponga’s decision making.

But Crawley argued Watson’s exit showed a strain on the relationship between the coaching staff and players.

“Don’t you think it’s a little bit surprising as Hoops has just revealed,” Crawley asked.

“The fact everyone was blindsided at the Knights today by this decision.

“You would think if there was a really good relationship between player and coach he would’ve been the first person he contacted and told and went through the situation.

“If it is fact that he has brought them all together and said this is the situation. That is a concern for the Knights.”

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