Robert Dillon: Sporting Declaration
BETTER late than never.
PASSION: Knights fans will be hoping the Wests Group can resurrect Newcastle’s ailing NRL franchise.
For 30 years, a marriage between the Knights and Wests has appeared, to most Novocastrians, a logical outcome.
Now it could be just weeks away from becoming a reality.
Providing Wests members endorse a recommendation from the licensed-club group’s board of directors, Newcastle’s rugby league flagshipwill be locally owned and funded from August 15 onwards, after confirmation that a deal has been struck with the NRL.
If that news is comforting for Knights fans, they are also entitled to wonder why it has taken so long.
Wests, of course, were the first port of call three years ago when the NRL ousted former Knights owner Nathan Tinkler, who took the club to the brink of insolvency in his tumultuous tenure.
Wests would have agreed to bail out theKnights at that point, had the NRL agreed to their terms and conditions.
Wests were rightly concerned that the Knights would be a financial drain and had no intention of throwing good money after bad.
My understanding is that theyoffered the NRL a dollar for the franchise. Moreover they wanted the remaining $5 million left from the bank guarantee that Tinkler forfeited, and a similar amount to cover expenses for the next few years.
NRL officials considered the proposal and decided they could do better.
Believing the Knights were a valuable asset, they assumed interim control, backing themselves to stabilise the club and eventually find an alternative owner.
When they put the club out to tender late last year and failed to unearth a suitable candidate, it reinforced what they had known all along. Wests weren’t just the logicaloption, they were basically the only option, especially when the Our Knights One Chance community-ownership proposal was unable to attract the necessary support.
So the NRL and Wests resumed negotiations in February.
This time the governing body brought a couple of new talking points to the table.
First, if Wests committed quickly, they could potentially secure a dollar-for-dollar NSW government grantto builda rugby league centre of excellence at Broadmeadow.
Alternatively, the NRL warned that they would not continue to bankroll the Knights indefinitely and that relocating the franchise was a realistic worst-case scenario.
Wests agreed to commit $10 million towards the centre of excellence. That was their downpayment.
They declined to pick up the tab for the liabilities the Knights had accrued since 2014, although byaccepting ownership fromAugust 15 (ifendorsed by their members), it seems they will contribute to certain running costs arising from this season.
In the end, both parties are satisfied with the deal.
Wests do not feel like they are tipping money into a black hole. For their $10 million investment, they will receive a new sporting facility worth twice as much.
They are confident the Knights will eventually be a break-even operation.
The NRL have faiththat they have found the right, long-term owners and that the Knights will never again be a financial burden. Their game will also benefit from the centre of excellence infrastructure.
Should this accord have been reached sooner?
In hindsight, perhaps so.
Maybe then the Knights would not be homing in on a third straight wooden spoon.
But surely now is the time to look forward with hope and optimism, not backwards in regret.
Hodkinson a genuine gentlemanIN a week when media attention surroundingBlake Ferguson and Josh Dugan gave their game a black eye, NRL officials should be eternally grateful for Trent Hodkinson.
The story of Hodkinson escorting terminally ill Mount Vincent teenagerHannah Rye to Kurri Kurri High School’s Year 10 formal reaffirmed his reputation as one of rugby league’s genuinegentleman.
The Knights have produced many fine ambassadors and role models over the years, but none better than Hodkinson.
The NRL should try to find an off-field role for himwhen his playing career is finished.
Dutchy deserves respectGARY van Egmond’s departure as the Emerging Jets academy director is a reminder of the fickle industry in which he works.
Van Egmond was seen as one of ’s brightest young coaches after Newcastle’s grand final win in 2008, and a stint at the AIS.
He has attracted more than his fair share of critics, especially after his second, unsuccessful stint at Newcastle’s helm.
But the bottom line is no Jets coach has been as successful as “Dutchy”, and none have blooded as many young players who progressedon to bigger and better things.
Whatever the future holds, I wish him well.