Bennett confident Knights will be OK

KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett believes Nathan Tinkler's financial plight has not damaged the NRL club's reputation or identity.

Bennett conducted a series of interviews yesterday as the Knights tried to minimise the fallout from the besieged tycoon's latest predicament.

He has said he would pledge his allegiance to the Knights even if Tinkler was forced to hand back ownership to the club's members.

The Australian Taxation Office, seeking more than $3 million in unpaid tax, has moved to liquidate eight companies linked to Tinkler, including the Knights, the Newcastle Jets A-League soccer club and their parent company, the Hunter Sports Group.

According to documents filed in the Federal Court in Sydney on Wednesday, the Knights owe the ATO $1.424 million in unpaid tax.

That matter is to be heard in the Federal Court on February 20 and 22, but an HSG spokesman said: "Any outstanding sum will be paid as soon as possible - well before the reported hearing."

Bennett told the Newcastle Herald yesterday that the Knights were enduring "a bit of a tough time at the moment, but no one's going anywhere".

"I just want to assure the fans of the Knights and the game that we're OK here," Bennett said.

"From my position, Nathan runs a very vast business, but we're only involved here at the Knights. That's what I know about. I don't know about all the other stuff. So the Knights are our priority and the future of the Knights is the priority.

"That's what I'm confident about and what the Knights staff are confident about - that we're fine, going forward, regardless of what might happen."

Companies connected to Tinkler have been involved in more than 20 legal disputes over unpaid debts this year. Two of Tinkler's private companies - Patinack Farm Administration and Mulsanne Resources - have been placed in liquidation, and his private jet and helicopter were repossessed last month.

Bennett said those issues had not harmed the Knights, and the region's rugby-league flagship was in better financial shape than when Tinkler took over.

"I don't think it's damaged the Knights brand, because it's not a Knights issue in that regard," Bennett said.

"It's Nathan's business, and it's right across his businesses.

"So it's not something that I feel impacts on the Knights. We're the profile part of it all, and that's why it gets mentioned in the manner that it does. And the Jets are an important part of that as well.

"But what I've found here, this club has been very unstable for a long period of time, and I know it's more difficult to achieve success in any organisation when that's happening.

"You had the takeover last year. You had lots of issues prior to that about them not paying their own bills, the Knights, and also being insolvent at times and certainly struggling financially.

"But I just want to inform everybody that we're in much, much better shape than we were last year.

"And right across our business everything has gone up - ticketing, support, TV ratings, crowd numbers. We've recruited well, and we're in good shape to go forward."

Bennett said he had not spoken to Tinkler since Fairfax Media broke news of the ATO's legal action on Thursday. However, he was in regular contact with HSG chief executive Troy Palmer.

Palmer did not respond to calls or text messages from the Herald yesterday, but Bennett said HSG management had assured him the tax bill would be paid before February 20.

Bennett told the Herald he remained committed to seeing out the final three years of his four-year deal, reportedly worth $1 million a season.

"In my case, I'm committed here. We certainly don't want Nathan walking away, and I certainly don't want Nathan walking away. And I don't believe that's going to happen," he said.

"But worst-case scenario, if it did happen, I'm committed to being a part of this club, and I couldn't walk away - there's no way I'd walk away. That just wouldn't happen.

"Whoever's paying the contracts, whoever's doing the contracts, that's not in my nature. I couldn't let these players or these staff down that work so hard here every day, and the fans. I just couldn't do that. That wouldn't happen.

"Unless somebody says they don't want me, nothing's going to change that."

Bennett said the club's $20 million bank guarantee provided "a great safety net" and the Knights would benefit further from the new billion-dollar television rights deal.

"We're in a situation through Nathan's commitments to us. We've got better facilities than ever. We've got no debt now, so we're in great shape," he said.

"We'd love to be out of the papers every day, and we'd like this controversy to go away, but we have no control over that. But the things that we can control, we're happy with where we're at.

"Nathan's support has been outstanding for us. I've been in this sport a long time, and what he's done for the Knights and the Jets and the city is great. There's a lot of mud been thrown but this is his own money we're talking about here.

"There's been a lot of money made by a lot of people in Newcastle, but there haven't been many of them put their hand up like he has - in fact nobody has. In the 25 years of the Knights' existence, there's nobody who's done what he's done."

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