Robert Dillon: Sporting Declaration

IT is a suggestion that has met with a predictably outraged response from the Novocastrian faithful.

PAROCHIAL: Novocastrians have traditionally turned out in strong numbers to support the Knights since the club was founded in 1988. Picture: Getty Images

PAROCHIAL: Novocastrians have traditionally turned out in strong numbers to support the Knights since the club was founded in 1988. Picture: Getty Images

The NRL, surely, would never even consider relocating the Newcastle Knights franchise to create a second team in Brisbane, most likely based in Ipswich.

Or would they?

Much as Sporting Declaration doubts the governing body would resort to such a drastic step, let’s just ponder  the worst-case scenario.

The Knights, as many so-called experts and bookmakers are predicting, finish with the wooden spoon for the third successive season.

Home crowds, which have dwindled by 30 per cent (20,919 to 14,457 average) over the past five years, continue to decline.

The NRL, which has funded the embattled franchise for almost three years, is unsuccessful in its quest to find a new owner, and the Our Knights One Chance community fund-raising campaign is unable to secure enough support to be a viable proposition.

None of which would appear outlandish.

Just imagine all those variables coinciding, and ask yourself how the people who run the game – and perhaps even fans of rival clubs – would be looking at Newcastle.

Then we’ll toss in another looming threat. Within a year, the ARL Commission, which since its creation has been an independent body, is likely to include board members appointed from the 16 clubs.

In other words, there could soon be people in positions of power whose priority is not necessarily the welfare of the game as a whole, but instead the prosperity of the clubs with whom they are aligned.

Clubs who might well view the Knights as a basket case, and this great rugby league heartland as a potential feeder system to be exploited.

Wouldn’t happen?

Well, perhaps it already has, to a degree.

In the pre-Nathan Tinkler era, the then Knights administration made what they thought would be a wise investment by taking responsibility for junior development on the Central Coast.

But when Tinkler baulked at the expense, the Roosters saw an opportunity, seized it, and claimed the Central Coast as their turf, shoring up their own position at the expense of a vulnerable rival. Who’s to say history can’t repeat itself, an hour up the freeway?

Other teams could not only nurture Newcastle and the Hunter as a talent pool, they could use our stadium to stage games, as many now do at Central Coast Stadium.

It’s all hypothetical, obviously, but anyone who denies such an outcome is at least plausible has more faith than this columnist.

The only thing that can be said with any certainty is the NRL will not bankroll the Knights forever.

They stepped in as interim owners reluctantly, and we are fortunate the ruling body has the financial reserves to sustain not just Newcastle, but also Gold Coast, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra.

It wouldn’t have happened in bygone eras.

Just ask the fans who cheered for Newtown, North Sydney or Balmain.

In America, relocating a sporting franchise is commonplace. San Diego looks likely to lose its NFL team of the past 56 years, the Chargers, to Los Angeles, apparently because its billionaire owner likes the idea of a new, more profitable stadium.

A business decision appears to have broken the hearts of the 57,024 fans who turned out, on average, to each of San Diego’s home games last season.

And you can rest assured the powers-that-be at rugby league HQ view a second team in Brisbane as a similarly smart business decision.

Their dilemma is that they don’t want any more than 16 teams in the competition.

The logical conclusion is to wait for natural attrition to take its toll. The general consensus is that there are too many teams in Sydney, and eventually something will have to give.

But what if it is Newcastle, and not a Sydney outfit, that is the first to be declared a write-off? What if, heaven forbid, this once-mighty club has not yet hit rock bottom?

There could be no better time for a saviour to emerge and there are apparently two candidates, one very public, one sworn to secrecy.

The Our Knights campaign, if successful, would be undoubtedly an idyllic outcome. A team owned and managed by the community, like the legendary Green Bay Packers.

But is is a long way from becoming a reality. Selling 40,000 shares at $500 apiece was always likely to be a massive challenge.

A more tangible prospect is that the affluent Wests Group takes control, something that should perhaps have transpired after Tinkler’s ignominious departure.

There is no doubt that Wests and the NRL are negotiating, but presumably both have signed confidentiality agreements.

One way or the other, there is no escaping the fact that the Knights are at the crossroads.

A club that has so much potential is precariously placed, on and off the field.

It would be nice to sign off by declaring the Knights are through the worst of it and the club will have a long and prosperous future.

But somehow I don’t feel like tempting fate. 

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