THE ROCKY relationship between Newcastle Knights coach Brian Smith and senior players has reached breaking point as the club battles to avoid the wooden spoon.
Captain Danny Buderus admitted for the first time yesterday Smith's decision to cut a swathe through the playing ranks for next season had caused widespread dissent and left morale at the club at an all-time low.
Buderus described the wholesale changes - which has seen long-serving players such as Adam Woolnough, Clint Newton, Josh Perry and a host of others shown the door - as "two much, too soon".
The latest moves to try and unload back rower Kirk Reynoldson, two games shy of activating a retention clause in his $200,000 contract for next season, was the "straw that broke the camel's back" according to Buderus.
Smith admitted last night he is not surprised at the player unrest because he knew it was coming.
"No one is feeling great at the moment because it is tough times," Smith said. "I'm feeling the same way myself. When the decision is made to move people on, and that is what I was hired to do as coach if it was necessary, there is no nice way to do it.
"I can understand them being upset about it.
"That is not going to change overnight. It will take some time (for the bridges to be mended)."
Buderus said the uncertainty over the future direction of the club had to be addressed.
"The players are upset, I won't deny that, and club management is aware of it," he said.
"We just want someone from the club to tell us where the joint is headed -- what ... he (Smith) is trying to do.
"This club has always been a unique club and the closeness of the playing group is what has made it so special.
"But we are getting away from what we are about. They can't just keep on wanting the boys to keep turning up each week if we don't know what is going on."
Buderus described the relationship between Smith and most of the players as "professional".
He added the playing group was aware there would be changes when Smith was appointed.
"I guess he is doing what the club brought him in to do," he said. "He is here to do a job but we were already a pretty good club. We had some good things in place that didn't need to be fixed."
Asked did he feel Smith's job may be under threat given his failing relationship with the players, Buderus replied: "It's not up to us. The people who make those decisions must want this to happen, I guess."
Knights senior executive officer Steve Burraston said: "There is no question when you make some tough decisions on players that it is going to affect things and with the injury toll we've had and the fact we have lost some games on the trot now, it all affects the morale in the place