Stone ready to make a splash for Knights - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Stone ready to make a splash for Knights

By Todd Balym 11/09/2009 05:06:51 PM Comments (0)

He is the most inexperienced coach to ever enter an NRL finals series, but Newcastle mentor Rick Stone is not feeling any pressure ahead of his playoff debut.

Stone took control of the Knights just four weeks ago, replacing Brian Smith.

Following three strong wins, they now enter the finals as the darkhorses against an injury-hit Bulldogs side at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

He is just the second mid-season appointment to get a side into the finals in NRL history, after Jason Taylor guided Parramatta to eighth in 2006 when he also replaced Smith.

Despite being less than a month into his head coaching role Stone says he is "calm" before the big game, his nerves eased somewhat with hooker Isaac De Gois and second rower Zeb Taia both passing fitness tests on Friday.

"I'm pretty calm at the moment and happy with the process and happy with the way we've prepared this week," said Stone.

"There's no doubt it will be the biggest game I've ever coached in but I'm looking forward to it and I'm not overawed."

Should Stone guide the Knights all the way to the grand final he will finish 2009 having coached in as many finals as he has NRL regular season games.

Consider this for an omen too, the last time Newcastle won the premiership was when rookie coach Michael Hagan was at the helm in 2001.

Ricky Stuart is another coach to have won the title in his first year in charge with the Sydney Roosters in 2002 - just the seventh man to achieve the feat.

It's not often that coaches taste first year success, but of the four rookies in 2009 three of them have reached the finals.

Brisbane's Ivan Henjak leads his team into battle against the Gold Coast also on Saturday, while Stone confronts the coach of the year in Bulldogs mentor Kevin Moore.

Stats guru David Middleton took a look through the archives and had to go right back to 1981 to find the last time two rookie coaches clashed in a finals game.

Ray Ritchie's Manly side beat Greg Pierce's men from Cronulla 14-11 in that knockout semi-final, while legendary master coach Jack Gibson (Easts) lost when he met fellow rookie Kevin Ryan (Canterbury) in the 1967 semi-finals.

Even though history is against Stone's Knights, as no team has ever come from outside the top four to win the premiership since the McIntyre system was introduced in 1999, he is confident his men can have a big say in this year's title race.

"We understand we're playing against a quality side, it is semi-finals and we're up for it," he said.

"We're really disappointed with how we finished last year so we get a chance this year and if we can win on the weekend we can take a step further in the semi-finals and maybe throw a cat amongst the pigeons."

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