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Adam O'Brien takes aim at Willie Mason after fresh swipe at Tyson Gamble

Canterbury great Willie Mason didn't miss a chance to return serve to Tyson Gamble after the Knights crashed out of the NRL finals.

Pictured left to right, Adam O'Brien, Tyson Gamble and Willie Mason.

Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien has hit out at Willie Mason after the Bulldogs great returned serve with a brutal shot at Tyson Gamble after the Knights crashed out of the NRL finals. The Warriors ended Newcastle's stunning 10-game winning streak - and their season - with a 40-10 thrashing in the second NRL semi-final at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.

It came after Gamble and Mason engaged in a war of words, with the former Bulldogs premiership winner describing the Knights' spine as the worst in the NRL without Ponga in the side. Gamble hit back at that swipe by telling Mason to "get f***ed" and suggested the 43-year-old focus on the problems at struggling Canterbury - where he is part of the club's coaching staff.

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Mason didn't waste a chance to take another shot at Gamble after Saturday's chastening defeat to the Warriors, telling the Knights playmaker to “pick ya battles boy” and labelling him "below average" in a scathing social media post. Responding to the comments from Mason, Newcastle's coach said it was "disappointing" from the former representative forward and unfair on his player.

“It’s something Tyson doesn’t need. Like all the boys. he’s disappointed and flat after the loss," O'Brien told The Daily Telegraph. “He’s been excellent for us. He’s not on a lot of money, in fact bugger all. He’s just goes out there and has a go. It wasn’t Tyson’s fault we were beaten.”

O'Brien conceded Gamble wouldn't have responded to Mason's initial barb if he had his time again. The Knights coach said it was hard for players to hear criticism from guy like Mason, who many would have looked up to when they were younger.

Newcastle captain Kalyn Ponga also argued that Gamble was right to vent his frustrations towards Mason, over the insinuation the Knights were largely a one-man team. "What Tyson said was right, and this is why we love Tyson because he uses that passion," Ponga - who happens to be a friend of Mason's - said. "He hit the nail on the head. It's a team collectively. It's why we're in the position we're in, because everyone's doing their job."

Newcastle captain Kalyn Ponga says teammate Tyson Gamble was within his rights to hit out at Willie Mason's comments about the side. Pic: Getty
Newcastle captain Kalyn Ponga says teammate Tyson Gamble was within his rights to hit out at Willie Mason's comments about the side. Pic: Getty

Adam O'Brien wants more in 2024 after superb season

While Newcastle could ultimately count their 2023 season as a resounding success, O'Brien won't let the Knights rest on their laurels. The coach says his side needs to use their success from 2023 season as springboard into the new season.

"For us to be okay with that performance given what we have done for the past 11 weeks, that wouldn't mean progress for the club at all," he said after the 40-10 mauling by the Warriors. "I am glad it has hurt all of us.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage. (Click here for our full coverage of the NRL Finals.)

"It's funny because we didn't deserve to end like that, but we deserved to end like that. The way we started the game we applied way too much pressure to ourself with discipline.

"But in time we can look back, they have done a pretty good job. We have been going at it for 12 weeks straight without a break."

O'Brien was under immense pressure to keep his coaching role earlier in the year until the Knights went on their long winning streak. Out of contract at the end of next season, he's now expected to sign a two-year extension at the club after a brief post-season holiday. If O'Brien does stay on as Newcastle coach for the next three season, he would likely break Michael Hagan's record for the most games coached (155) at the Knights.

with AAP

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