SEVEN months ago the Knights insisted they had no intention of coercing Dan Tolar into early rugby league retirement with a guaranteed job.
Now they may have to explain to NRL salary cap auditor Ian Schubert how Tolar came to be working for a company affiliated with club owner Nathan Tinkler.
The Newcastle Herald can reveal today that Tolar, the local junior who played in 101 first-grade games for the Knights between 2004 and last season, has been employed for the past few months as an occupational health and safety officer for Bolkm.
Bolkm is a subsidiary of Buildev, a company in which Tinkler is the major shareholder.
Tolar is also an assistant coach with the Knights’ under-16s, who play in the Harold Matthews grand final today.
This may seem innocuous, but the NRL has guidelines in place regarding providing players with post-football employment, and in some cases clubs have been fined for breaching the salary cap.
Former Test prop Robbie Kearns, for instance, was implicated in the Melbourne salary cap scandal when it emerged he had been paid $120,000 per annum for three years after he retired to be a ‘‘club ambassador’’.
Whether the Tolar situation constitutes a salary cap infringement is unclear because such cases have to be assessed individually and both the Knights and the NRL were reluctant to comment when the Herald approached them for clarification.
Tolar told the Herald last night: ‘‘I don’t know anything about breaching the salary cap. When I knew it was time to hang the boots up the club helped me find a job. If they’ve breached the cap because of that, I’d be gutted.’’
The NRL declined to confirm or deny if Schubert was investigating the matter, saying only: ‘‘The NRL is constantly monitoring the salary cap of all clubs, in the context of an entire season.
‘‘The audit for all clubs is not completed until the end of the season.’’
When the Herald emailed Knights management a list of questions relating to Tolar, they replied: ‘‘The Knights have no comment to pass on a former player’s employment, as it is a private matter between the player and his employer ... the club has no further comment.’’
In the same email, quotes were attributed to chief executive Matt Gidley, who said: ‘‘We are proud that part of our strategy is to help all players find full employment as they enter retirement.
‘‘Dan Tolar had been an outstanding contributor for the Knights, both on and off the field, until injury forced his retirement. Dan is currently an assistant coach with the Knights under-16s team and doing an outstanding job.’’
On August 28 last year, Gidley denied a Sun-Herald report that Tolar was poised to retire so he could accept a job from HSG.
‘‘With Dan, he’s just trying to get back [on the field] this week and play. I don’t think he’s made any decisions about his future,’’ Gidley said.
‘‘He’s contracted next year and as far as we’re concerned he’s going to sit back at the end of the year and see how his body is and go from there, but in terms of having a job lined up with Hunter Sports Group, that’s completely incorrect.’’
At the time: Tolar said of the speculation: ‘‘That’s the first I’ve heard of it.’’
Less than a month later, he announced his retirement at the age of 29, citing longstanding injury problems after agreeing to terminate his contract for 2012.
Tolar’s departure was convenient for the Knights.
The Herald understands he was due to earn $160,000 this season, money incoming coach Wayne Bennett felt could be better spent elsewhere. Like Cory Paterson, Mark Taufua, Antonio Kaufusi and Beau Henry, Tolar was told he did not feature in Bennett’s plans.
Unlike the others, Tolar apparently refused to move his young family from Newcastle.
That left the Knights facing a dilemma. If they simply paid Tolar out, in full, that money would have counted under their 2012 salary cap.
In effect, their squad would have been reduced by one man before pre-season training had even kicked off.
But once Tolar confirmed he was hanging up the boots, that freed up crucial room under the salary cap.
The Knights soon afterwards signed former Dragons forward Adam Cuthbertson for two years. They have since added former Cronulla half Albert Kelly and much-travelled Willie Mason under their second-tier cap.
Because Tolar retired before the 2012 pre-season had started, it is understood the Knights had no obligation to pay any of this season’s contract.
But it is unlikely many people would just walk away and write off $160,000 without having an alternative career path.
Tolar could have turned up for training, played NSW Cup all year and still been entitled to his salary.
The Herald understands a compromise was reached, by which Tolar would agree to retire on the proviso he was not financially disadvantaged.
On September 26, the day Tolar retired, Gidley said the terms of his severance package were still being negotiated.
‘‘That’s something we’re working through now . . .we always had this on hold until we knew exactly what Dan was going to do,’’ Gidley said at the time.
‘‘There was an inkling there that he was contemplating retirement, and now that he has made that decision ... we’ll sit down and look at the cap, see how much room we’ve got left, and work through a few of those issues.’’