David Klemmer is fighting to save his big-money Newcastle Knights contract amid reports he could be sacked immediately – but he appears to have the support of his team-mates as an ugly standoff looms.
The prop was issued a show-off notice after allegedly refusing to leave the field and verbally abusing coach Hayden Knowles during the club’s 24-10 loss to the Bulldogs.
Klemmer has not been named to face Wests Tigers this weekend and the Daily Telegraph’s Dean Ritchie reports that his contract could be torn up, with the issue potentially bigger than just the on-pitch incident.
“He is fighting to save his career amid suggestions he could be terminated immediately,” Ritchie said Big sports breakfast on Wednesday.
“… Today there will be meetings between the two parties.
“It’s a strange situation, there’s more to this story than Klemmer being suspended based on an on-field altercation with their head coach Hayden Knowles. I don’t know what the rest of the story is, but it will undoubtedly come up.”
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Ritchie, when pressed on whether Klemmer could have been fired only during the incident at the weekend, or whether there were bigger issues at play, replied: “I don’t know… I would be hard-pressed to suggest that this incident alone would have been enough to terminate the contract.”
The Wire also reported that a group of Knights players were preparing to confront the club, unhappy with its treatment of Klemmer.
Klemmer is under contract with the Knights until the end of 2023 – believed to be worth up to $900,000 a year – and the latest development comes after he was linked with a move to the Parramatta Eels for the rest of the season – and possibly beyond.
The 28-year-old was reportedly unhappy the deal did not go through before the NRL transfer deadline on August 1.
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NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent revealed details of the alleged incident on the pitch on Tuesday night.
“It happened during a series of tackles in the last few minutes of the game where they kept trying to get him off the field,” Kent said.
“Now Klemmer just refused to go. He was disciplined, he wasn’t selected after this weekend’s game.”
The Knights released a statement Tuesday confirming the on-field disciplinary matter, though they chose not to go into further detail.
The Daily Telegraph Paul Crawley described the show case announcement as “strange” as Newcastle took action by dropping Klemmer before giving him a chance to explain himself.
A veteran rugby league reporter suggested that the Klemmer incident was just a minor part of much bigger problems in the Hunter.
“It’s bigger than this,” Crawley said.
“There is a problem at Newcastle that everyone is avoiding and covering up, there are players who are not happy. There is division in the club and no one can deny that. Just look at their performances.
“Obviously there are some players who are not really happy and David Klemmer probably caught fire at the weekend.
“Something happened to him on the pitch, he didn’t want to go out, but I assure you there has to be more to it.
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Crawley’s theory was supported by Braith Anasta, who said explosions similar to the one Klemmer had on Sunday afternoon “happen every weekend”.
“It happens every weekend at the club where a player doesn’t want to leave the field or he will argue with his coaches,” Anasta said.
“I don’t know to what extent, but the announcement of the show is very dramatic at 6pm on a Tuesday night when they haven’t caught him in the hip.” There has to be more. It just has to be.”
As Kent went on to point out, there have been reports that Parramatta are trying to snap up Klemmer before the mid-season transfer deadline, adding fuel to the fire.
“It’s interesting that Parramatta approached the Knights yesterday about a loan,” Kent said.
“My understanding is that Klemmer was willing to go, but he will be at Newcastle next year. He wanted the next year at Parramatta and the year after, which they were unwilling to go to, hinting at the fact that he may have been happy to leave Newcastle.
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Former teammate James Graham said Klemmer “looked very frustrated” and understood why he might have pushed against coming from the field.
“He has very high expectations of himself and takes pride in his performances and especially his numbers,” Graham said.
“He can be one of those guys who is reluctant to leave the field. This is also against his old club. I understand why he wanted to stay there.
“There were times when they would rotate those centre-forwards and Klemmer would protest to leave the pitch if he thought he could influence the result.
However, Corey Parker called it a “load of BS” and took aim at Newcastle for disciplining Klemmer, who he called “the club’s alpha male”.
“Seriously, he benched somebody because he said no to come to the coach,” Parker said.
“I played for 16 years and every time they asked me to leave I was reluctant to say a few swear words to the coach to let him know I didn’t want to go out. He is the alpha male of the club playing against his former club.
“Are we playing rugby league? Is he a front rower for a rugby league club, he just bows out and walks away? I have played with and against Klem and he is a tough, uncompromising and durable front rower.”
However, Graham responded by pointing out that sometimes a player has to put his personal thoughts aside and put the best interests of the team first.
In this case, while Graham thought the decision to bench Klemmer was “weird,” Graham said Coach O’Brien may have been trying to set a standard by dropping the enforcer.
“No one wants to leave, but if your club sees something and you’re part of the rotation and it comes from the top,” Graham said.
“It looks weird [to take him off then]. We all sprayed the trainers. I think it’s because he didn’t come off the field. Personally I think they have had a bad week, O’Brien is trying to set a precedent and build his club.
“We heard about O’Brien setting the standards for next year.
Drama is hardly what Newcastle needed as it looks to arrest a worrying slump in form that has seen the club lose four games in a row and lose 14 of their last 17 to slide down the table.
Knights coach Adam O’Brien came under fire earlier in the week for his comments after the latest loss to the Bulldogs, in which he referred to his participation in “four grand finals”.
“It’s tough for me, too,” O’Brien said in the postgame press conference.
“I was in four grand finals before I got this job here.
“I know how those teams prepared. I know the systems they used for defense.
“You don’t unlearn this knowledge.” It will take some time to use it and root it.
“We can talk week in and week out about one area of this defense and we can fix it in seven days, but then we let another area of our defense down.
“It’s going to take a while and I know some people don’t want to wait that long, but it is.
O’Brien spoke to the media again on Tuesday to clarify those comments, admitting that he would “like to have” that press conference back.
“I did not clearly convey the message I wanted to convey and I apologize for that,” he said.
“I seem to be an egomaniac. I was trying to get my message across to the fan who sits on the hill and has to wonder do they train defense and technique? Are they fit, they claim?
“I tried to talk to them that the boys are training at a really high level. I tried to give people on the hill hope that we are training at a high level – but that does not translate to the field and the responsibility is squarely on me.
“I don’t take credit for success at these clubs, that’s the work of Craig (Bellamy) and Trent (Robinson). I am trying to create it here. We’re on our way, but we’re not there yet.”
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