Knights coach Stone ready at the helm - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Knights coach Stone ready at the helm

By Ian McCullough 03/03/2010 01:41:15 PM Comments (0)

For Rick Stone, the chance to take over as Newcastle's NRL coach following Brian Smith's late 2009 season departure was just reward.

Thirteen years as coach of Queensland Cup side Burleigh and five years as an assistant to Smith and predecessor Michael Hagan gave Stone plenty of coaching experience.

However, none of that could have prepared him for the pre-season from hell.

If losing inspirational skipper Kurt Gidley for the first month of the 2010 campaign with a hamstring injury wasn't bad enough, dealing with the fall out after two of his senior players were charged with drug offences has thrown his preparations into turmoil.

The arrest of Danny Wicks, who quit the club in December following eight drugs charges, shocked the Knights but the charging of fellow forward Chris Houston this week on three counts of supplying ecstasy and one of supplying cocaine rocked the club to the core.

Houston, who was on the fringe of 2009 NSW Origin selection, was being groomed as long-term heir to Steve Simpson as forwards leader.

He's been stood down indefinitely from the club, leaving a sizeable void in the Knights forwards strength.

Stone was widely praised for the way he steadied the Knights in 2009 after Smith's acrimonious departure, guiding them to a first finals appearance since 2006.

He admits the off-field issues he's faced since have been hard to comprehend, and is under no illusions about the size of his task in his first full season at the helm.

"It was a tough time and something that shocked all of us and although the players have been nothing but professional, it is not something you know how to deal with," Stone said.

"But come the opening game of the season all of the players will be fully focused on nothing else but footy."

Salary cap restraints also tied the coach's hands, with New Zealand international prop Evarn Tuimavave the only new addition to the squad after he agreed terms to leave the Warriors.

While admitting it was frustrating not being able to freshen his squad further, Stone believes he still has enough talent at his disposal for the Knights to do well.

Halfback Jarrod Mullen is crucial to those hopes, especially with Gidley on the sidelines.

"There is a bit more expectation on Jarrod now but I think he is ready for it a little bit more," said Stone.

"He is more confident and more composed and he understands the responsibilities on his shoulders more than he did.

"I don't think it was something that came naturally to him being such a young player as it is such a tough gig unless you are naturally cut out for it.

When Gidley does return, Stone said he is planning to play him outside Mullen at five-eighth, a move that could jeopardise Gidley's fullback spot with NSW.

"Shannon McDonnell showed last year he is a real NRL player and we were planning on playing him at fullback at the start of this season and giving Gids some time in the halves," he said.

"He (McDonnell) will start at fullback and will do a job for us, he knows our structure really well and he will get first chance at No.1 and I wouldn't be surprised if he does enough to make it a full-time role even when Gids returns."

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