O'Brien on mentality, defence and coaching apprenticeship

nib Newcastle Knights Head Coach Adam O'Brien has completed his initial conversations with local media, including a special interview with ABC's Craig Hamilton.

No topic was off-limits, with Trent Robinson, Craig Bellamy, the Knights defence and potential game plans for next year all up for discussion.

If you missed the interview, read the full transcript below.

Craig Hamilton: Welcome to Newcastle, what have you made of the town so far?

Adam O'Brien: I love the town. It’s a great feel and a great fit for myself and my wife. The thing that stood out for us is we’re both coastal-country people, I grew up in Batemans Bay and my wife’s from Ulladulla in the south coast.

Obviously, Newcastle’s a little bigger and we’ve got some more choice, but the community feel and the willingness from everyone to give me a hand and help you out, they don’t look at me as the Knights coach. Before they even knew my title, they we’re just willing to help you, so I love that part.

CH: Let’s fast track to working with Craig Bellamy, you worked in Melbourne for a long time with him, articulate that experience.

AO: He’s moulded me as a footy coach and a person. The two most influential figures in my life would be my dad and then Craig, and there’s not much that separates the two. My Dads a tough old cranky country publican, and Craig’s a tough old footy coach.

I guess he (Bellamy) taught me how to behave. If you’re going to ask something of your players then you need to be that, you need to be a symbol of it and one thing that he instilled in me was a work ethic. If you want your players to be hard working than you need to be hard working yourself. Installing the hard work ethic, and also Craig’s a country guy too, and nothing against city people.

How humble he is struck a chord with me, and he instills that into his players. We’re no better than the bloke down the road working 8 hours a day, we’re doing a job too. I saw the benefits of that and what he instilled in that culture, everyone’s heard about the work program with the Storm players who go down there. He made it clear to me that if you were a guy who needed to be looked after off the field, you would need to be looked after on the field. You’d miss a tackle that was yours, so having a real good work ethic and a real humbleness about you that you were no better than the guy down the road.

CH: There’s a lot of people who want to be rugby league coaches who are humble, there’s a lot of coaches who have a great work ethic, why is he successful? What makes him a great coach?

AO: I think the number one thing is he doesn’t over complicate it. He gets a guy in, gets him fit, gets him strong and then allows him to completely understand what his role is, what’s expected of him but just as important why for his role. You can get guys to understand what they have to do, but unless you can tap into that motivation of why I’m doing it and the effects that it has for the guy beside him, that’s his biggest strength.

That’s why when you see changes to the Melbourne Storm team and you’ll often hear when the new guys come in that they just keep reproducing them. It’s because he simplifies things and gets them to believe their role is the most important on the field, so that’s probably what sets him apart.

CH: Structure, or playing what’s in front of you? Do you get the game plan and say, ‘stay with this boys’, or ‘have a look at what’s in front of you and if there’s an opportunity to get away from the game plan play that’, where do you stand with that?

AO: Find the balance. I think its shape over structure. If you don’t have any structure, they’re running around running into each other. If you have too much, you’re predictable and easy to defend. I like a team who can turn up and not rely on fancy plays, shape and structure. If you turn up and it’s blowing a gale, pouring rain and there’s scoreboard pressure, you can’t rely on fancy plays. So, having some substance about your footy, having some core business that you can fall back on and will hold up all season, and just having some strong principles.

In terms of the eyes up part, I really encourage that. The game is speeding up all the time, the ball in play time means there’s more tired defenders out there, so just finding points on the field to pass the ball backwards is ineffective against tired defenders.

So, I think we need to have an eyes-up front-foot mentality, I guess it’s like a pick a path mentality to a certain point, so the plan is to get here, but if there’s on, take it. I’ll back them.

CH: You went to the Roosters and worked under Trent Robinson, what did you learn from Trent Robinson in that season and how would you compare that as well as those two individuals, Trent Robinson and Craig Bellamy?

AO: I’d say completely opposite. They are both really successful organisations, and that was the appeal for me to leave Melbourne in the first place. I knew I’d had a really good start to what I call my coaching apprenticeship, and I still believe that’s molded most of me, from Melbourne, but I knew I needed to have a look at another way of doing it, and the Roosters were that.

In terms of Craig being heavily blue collar, I think Robbo is more white collar. He’s highly educated, and I think your team will reflect your head coaches’ character. Melbourne will play for three days straight because Craig will work for three days straight, while the Roosters can beat you tactically, because their Head Coach is smart. He’s an extremely intelligent individual. They’ll beat you with some skill and talent, and you’ll see the players they’ve got are highly skillful and talented. Whereas in Melbourne, you’ve got guys who are happy to get in an arm wrestle and do it until you put up the white flag.

That’s probably the opposites, and their training programs reflect that too. The Roosters would be the skill and power-based program, Melbourne would always be an attrition-based program. You’d hear about army camps and hills, the last few years it’s morphed into a more speed and power program, probably since 2016 which was a big change for us, in terms of how we attacked in Melbourne, which was through that speed/power program.

Getting the opportunity to pick the eyes out of the vase, a good way of putting it would be Robbo’s the fine-dining experience and Bellamy is a schnitty and chips, they’re both good feeds but it depends which one you feel like today.

CH: Most Knights fans love the fact Newcastle can score points. They like the attack, they love watching someone like Kalyn Ponga who can produce something out of nothing and score points. Most of them also say we concede too many, and we might score 24 points but it’s not enough to win. How do you fix that? What’s your philosophy on defence and improving it?

AO: The first thing is I’m going to take care of the defence, that’s not to say that I know everything, I’ve got some good coaching staff that have been across defence, but I believe I’ve been involved in the two best defensive systems over the last 15 years in Melbourne and more recently the Roosters. So, I’ve got a good understanding of what it takes to be a good defender.

What the guys need to understand is if I need to choose between two guys I’m going with the defensive guy. Having strong defence is character, your character and resolve comes out in your defence and I hear a lot about us representing the region and at the moment there’s a lot of talk of that and not enough doing. I need to install a bit of that resilient character into our defensive line.

Naturally they’ll attack, you look at every sport and every game you win by adding up. I look at it as the premiership winning teams over the last 20 years have been the top two defensive teams. Whether or not we get to two, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but that’s certainly the aim of building our defensive resolve.