Smith staying on – for now

Newcastle Knights management have assured Brian Smith they want him to stay as head coach. The intriguing issue will be for how long.
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Newcastle’s board of directors voted unanimously on Wednesday night to offer Smith a contract extension and have instructed chief executive Steve Burraston to kick off negotiations, most likely next week.

But the duration of the deal that will be tabled to Smith remains a matter of debate.

Smith is now starting the third and final year of the contract he signed with Newcastle midway through 2006.

A two-year extension would take his tenure at Newcastle to five years, the same length of time it took Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler to win premierships with Melbourne and Manly respectively.

But while the Storm and Sea Eagles were rewarded for showing faith in their coaches, it remains to be seen whether the Knights are willing to show the same commitment to Smith.

The trouble for Knights management is that the deal will probably be done before the season kicks off, which means that there will be a large element of guesswork involved.

Having finished one win out of the play-offs last season, Smith’s team are effectively an unknown quantity as they prepare for 2009.

It would not be beyond the realms of possibility for them to emulate Cronulla last season, who transformed from also-rans into a top-four outfit. But it also appears feasible that Newcastle might struggle to improve on their ninth-placed finish last season.

If the Knights were to miss the play-offs for a third consecutive year, fans would be entitled to ask at season’s end why officials moved so promptly to re-sign Smith.

With that in mind, it would be no surprise if the Knights hedged their bets and offered Smith an incentive-based deal that rewarded him for on-field performance.

His current arrangement included a "trigger" clause, by which he would have earned an extra year had the Knights made the top four in either of his first two seasons.

A similar proposal might be presented at next week’s negotiations a guaranteed one-year extension, which would become two years if the Knights reach the top four this season.

Burraston said "various tenures were discussed at the board meeting" and it would be his job to find "common ground" with Smith.

"It may be that it’s just a five-minute meeting and a shake of the hand, but if we’re apart we’ve got to work out some sort of compromise and how we can get together," Burraston said. "It needs to suit him and it needs to suit us."

Burraston said it would be premature to speculate on tenure but confirmed that trigger clauses were likely to be mentioned in negotiations.

"There’s a whole lot of things that go into the contract and it’s fairly complicated," he said.

"Once we get an understanding of all that, we’ll know exactly what the terms will be and how many years that is, and if it has triggers for new years or whatever."

Meanwhile, is is undecided if Tony Butterfield will be replaced on the nine-man Knights board after resigning to accept a new position as the club’s corporate and community liaison officer. The board can either appoint a new director or wait until the next annual general election, in April next year.