NRL passes responsibility to Fox for Knights’ Mondayitis

THE NRL says it had no control over the decision to allocate Newcastle a third Monday night home game this season as it was part of its contract with pay-television rights holder Fox Sports.

The Knights complained yesterday that the allocation of three Monday games at Hunter Stadium, against the Panthers (April 30), Tigers (June 25) and Sharks (August 13), was unfair.

The Storm, Titans, Dragons and Warriors are yet to host a Monday game this year and only two more rounds, 24 and 25, are yet to be scheduled.

No Monday game is played in round 26.

The Newcastle Knights take on the Manly Sea Eagles at Hunter Stadium tomorrow. The game kicks off at 5.30pm.

‘‘The Knights are of the understanding all clubs get a minimum of one Monday night game a season, but a maximum of two, so naturally when round 23 against Cronulla was assigned a Monday night game there was some confusion and frustration,’’ Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said in a statement posted on the club’s website yesterday.

‘‘It is unfair and an imbalance to receive three Monday night games, especially given four clubs have had no Monday night games to date, and with only two more rounds to schedule ... at least two will miss out altogether in season 2012.’’

In its contract with the NRL, Fox Sports can select up to three Monday night home games for any one club in any given season, and it has happened to five other clubs in the past four years.

This is the first time the Knights have been allocated three Monday games in the same year.

But it has happened twice each to the Storm and Raiders since 2008, and NRL director of football operations Nathan McGuirk said Fox Sports was within its rights to do so.

‘‘We attempt as much as possible to even out Monday night football selections, but it’s not always possible and, in the end, we don’t have the final say,’’ McGuirk said.

‘‘It has happened five times over the past four seasons where teams have received three Monday night football games in the same season.

‘‘But it hasn’t happened to the Knights before.

‘‘It has happened at least once a season over the past four years, and that’s far from ideal, we understand that, but unfortunately, the way the circumstances were in this case, it was unavoidable.

‘‘We understand the Knights’ disappointment, but those scheduling decisions have been made by Fox Sports and we support that.’’

McGuirk said the NRL had worked closely with Knights management and their owners, the Hunter Sports Group, to provide three showcase home games televised free-to-air on Channel Nine and on NBN in the first six rounds this season.

In their first game under coach Wayne Bennett, the Knights kicked off the season on a Thursday night, March 1, against Bennett’s previous club, St George Illawarra.

Newcastle hosted Bennett’s other former club, Brisbane, two weeks later in a Friday night blockbuster on March 16, then the Knights were granted a Sunday game against Parramatta on April 8 to celebrate their 25th anniversary and inaugural inductees to the club’s Hall of Fame.

‘‘We’ve tried our best to assist them throughout the season, particularly at the start of the year with the new ownership of the Knights,’’ McGuirk said. ‘‘But these scheduling issues are unavoidable sometimes.’’

The NRL compensates host clubs with $40,000 for each Monday night game.

Melbourne chief executive Ron Gauci was not in charge of the club in 2008 but he was last year, the second time the Storm have hosted three Monday games.

Gauci said his club tried to embrace the scheduling and market those matches accordingly.

‘‘I’m overseas at the moment so I can’t comment about what the Knights have said because I haven’t followed it,’’ Gauci said.

‘‘But I can say that Monday nights does impact us.

‘‘However, we have shown a preparedness to take those games if selected, and at the end of the day it’s up to the broadcaster to say who plays on Monday nights anyway.’’

Canberra chief executive Don Furner said the Raiders struggled to attract crowds on Monday nights in winter.

‘‘We are happy to get them as long as we get them early in the season,’’ Furner said.

‘‘It’s a hard job getting people to Canberra Stadium on a cold Monday night.’’

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