THE Newcastle Knights have abstained from joining the rebel clubs hoping to overthrow ARL Commission chairman John Grant, saying they are in an “invidious” position and need to remain neutral.
Along with Gold Coast Titans, the Knights are under NRL ownership and, as such, Newcastle chairman Brian McGuigan said the club could scarcely become involved in an uprising against the governing body.
"You can't bite the hand that feeds you," McGuigan told the Newcastle Herald.
The Titans have also declined to join the coup against Grant, triggered after last week’s summit in Sydney at which the code’s most powerful official informed the clubs that a memorandum of understanding – proposing an increase in funding to 30 per cent more than the salary cap – had been withdrawn. Initially all 16 clubs were unanimous in signing a vote of no-confidence in Grant.
But McGuigan said that, with the benefit of hindsight and after many phone calls, both the Knights and Titans decided they could not support the boycott.
“The Titans are in similar position to us, and we have agreed that we will abstain from voting on this issue,’’ McGuigan said.
“It’s just invidious for us to proceed. At the same time, we’ve done that with the goodwill of the remaining clubs, who have been very understanding of our delicate position.’’
McGuigan said he had spoken at length with Grant but no pressure had been applied to the Knights, either from the ARLC or their fellow clubs.
He was hopeful the Knights and Titans could play the role of “circuit breakers” in the impasse.
“The NRL have been unbelievable supporters of the Knights, and I think they also have of the Titans,’’ McGuigan said.
“They have not put us under any pressure to do one thing or the other.
“They have allowed us to make our own decision.
“I’ve spoken to John a number of times over the last few days, and he has never asked us not to sign with the other clubs.
“He’s been very honourable and … to their great credit, the clubs agreed that it was intolerable for us.
“Everybody, the Commission and the clubs, understands how invidious it is for us to be in the position we are in.’’
McGuigan said he could also empathise with the disgruntled clubs, who had been expecting a significant increase in their annual grants.
The funding model, which was agreed to by both parties last year, was set to deliver an extra $100 million to the 16 clubs per year.
But Grant argued that they could no longer afford it, saying other issues deserved precedence, including grassroots investment and a sinking fund to support struggling clubs.
The Commission was trying to schedule peace talks for later this week, but McGuigan said it was likely that most clubs would “probably boycott” any such meeting.
“The clubs were offended, and rightly so,’’ McGuigan said.
“Initially when I agreed to sign the letter, with the other clubs, supporting the removal of the chairman, I thought it was a strategy.
“But after speaking to Rebecca [Titans chairwoman Rebecca Frizelle], and realising the ramifications, we explained to the other 14 clubs that we would abstain from the recommendation, and they agreed with us.’’