Cast your mind back to the early days of Nathan Tinkler’s interest in the Newcastle Knights. You couldn’t go a couple of days without some former Newcastle Knights player saying what an amazing opportunity it was for the club to sell the farm to Tinkler and his Hunter Sports Group.
Tinkler played his purchase of the Knights really well. He got all of Newcastle’s favorite sons on board. He then sat back and watched as they flooded the Newcastle media with stories of untold riches, about a new era for the Knights, about a Knight in shining armour who was ready to turn the local team into one of the NRL’s heavyweights, and best of all, the bloke was a local!
Everyone put pressure on the Knights administration at the time. The administrators of the club didn’t rush things though. In the face of extreme criticism, they put in place safeguards to protect the club just in case the richest man under 40 in Australia hit tough financial times.
Guess what happened…
Outside of bringing Wayne Bennett to the club, Nathan Tinkler’s time as an owner of the Newcastle Knights has been one long embarrassing disaster!
It all started before he even ran the club when it was rumoured that he was getting personally involved in the contract negotiations of Kade Snowden. If you read the link in the previous sentence you will see what I thought of Tinkler’s offer to the Knights. I could basically have made the same offer for the club!
The very next day I elaborated on my concerns about Tinkler’s offer to buy the Knights and the use of Newcastle identities who were all pushing the offer as if it was the greatest deal in the world! The Knights administration at the time had no friends in Newcastle because of the media campaign being run against them, even though they were the only ones looking after the future of the club.
In August 2012 I asked whether the Knights would be immune from Tinkler’s whims, after he threatened to leave the Newcastle Jets soccer club that he owned for dead because he felt he had paid too much money for them.
Then in December 2012 Nathan Tinkler’s growing financial issues started to directly effect the club as the ATO issued a winding up order against the Newcastle Knights. At this stage Newcastle Knights supporters should have been horrified. They weren’t. They were still being told by the club and former stars they trusted that this was all just a misunderstanding. Nothing to worry about. Its just a paperwork issue really.
In mid 2013 Nathan Tinkler was then investigated for betting on Rugby League games, something he is not allowed to do as a club owner. He was later cleared by the NRL but still, it didn’t look good.
Then in March this year it was reported that the Knights had missed player payments. This is something I have seen happen many times before in Super League. The Knights management played it out exactly the same way. It was all just a misunderstanding. Its was a technical mistake by the banks. Let me tell you something, when a club misses player payments, it isn’t the beginning of the end. Its the end of the end.
A few days later clubs members expressed concerns that Nathan Tinkler would not be able to come through on a bank guarantee that he promised to make as part of his agreement to purchase the club. Once again, the public faces Nathan Tinkler employed told everyone not to worry, that the money would be in the bank and that people needed to stop overreacting to rumours they kept hearing.
Of course, Tinkler didn’t come through with the bank guarantee and the Knights are now in the process of being handed back to members for $1 as was agreed to when the club was purchased.
Then last night, the NRL issued a statement in regards to news that players and staff at the Knights were not being paid. This happened in the same week that Nathan Tinkler paid $70 million in cash to secure his latest mining venture…
There are a few things that need to come out of all of this.
Firstly of all, the NRL needs to step in and take temporary ownership of the Newcastle Knights. They need to be off off Nathan Tinklers hands for good as soon as possible. The NRL needs to cover the missed payments and make sure the club is held together until a new ownership structure is put in place, which is something that is already being sorted out.
CEO Matthew Gidley and the entire Newcastle Knights board needs to be sacked. These people all kept giving assurances that nothing was wrong at the Knights. As deadlines were missed, as players and staff were not being paid, the clubs members and supporters were all continually told that everything was fine.
None of them can stay. They all have to go!
I have to question where the hell the Rugby League Players Association is during all of this? Players are missing payments, there are issues in regards to superannuation payments, and the RLPA is no where to be seen! This is their job! This is why they exist! They should have been up in Newcastle in March screaming from the hills that none of this was acceptable and that if the NRL did not step in and make sure players were paid that no Newcastle Knights player would take the field this season!
That might sound drastic but look where we are now. Yet still the RLPA is silent. What do they exist for if they are not blowing up about this!
Luckily the National Rugby League has the money on hand to clean up this situation. I think from this we will see new measures put in place for any new owner that enters the game. I think the NRL will never again leave privatization up to club members, I think they will take an active role in any club that wants to privatize itself to make sure this can never happen again.
This whole saga has played out like the movie King Ralf, only its been one big stuff up after another rather than a feel good story.
Hopefully Newcastle’s supporter base grows up a little after all of this. They stop listening to old football players and start looking at how their club is run and making decisions for themselves.
To the credit of Knights supporters, I think that is happening. I think they no long have stars in their eyes every time a former player has something to say. In the long run that will be a good thing for the Newcastle Knights. An informed supporter base is a good thing for any football club to have.
Knights fans should always remember the people who told them to take Nathan Tinkler’s money. They should also remember the former administrators who told them not to rush into anything. At the end of the day, the decisions made by the former administrators of the club to safeguard it have saved the club from going under.
I have no doubt Newcastle Knights will bounce back from all of this. They’ll lose Wayne Bennett and a few senior players. They will have certain players retire and someone will be left to rebuild the playing stocks all over again.
Give it a few years though and the Knights will be in a better position than they are in today, with a deadbeat owner, an administration that is full of shit, an old coach and an old lineup.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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