Up Front with Tony Butterfield

DOWN AND OUT: Chanel Mata'utia will miss at least one game after copping a dubious fend from Blake Ferguson on the chin. Picture: AAP
DOWN AND OUT: Chanel Mata'utia will miss at least one game after copping a dubious fend from Blake Ferguson on the chin. Picture: AAP

The past month has produced a slew of good news for the Knights off the field. With the signing of Connor Watson and Herman Ese’ese this week, Tautau Moga last week and Aidan Guerra earlier this month, things are looking promising. Throw in SKD and the rebuild of our team is on track.

More to come, we hope.

The downside is young men who have battled over parched ground most of their professional career will be asked to move on. Most, one expects, will be locals. But that’s pro sport.

Hopefully lessons learned will hold them in good stead for the future.  

Of course those asked to move on, whomever they might be, will in the interim be playing for their careers. Serious business when you’ve devoted half your young life and, for most, have little to fall back on. Such is the nature of the beast, each player must step up now or step off in six weeks’ time.

If those seeking to stay want to stake their claim, it’s now or never. 

JUST a quick reflection on the Blake Ferguson forearm last week that nearly smashed our man’s jaw and knocked him into this week. 

Chanel Mata’utia will probably be sidelined for a couple of weeks, given the force involved in his knock last week. While all the attention was on the Billy Slater high shot, I’ve read nothing about this Ferguson incident. Equally as damaging, but nothing.

The NRL match-review committee determined there was no case to answer. Really? Someone sustained a severe head injury after contact with the ball-carrier’s defensive forearm, and the caravan moved on?  

I agree accidents happen and Chanel needs to update his tackling technique, if only to avoid cowboys who lead with the ol’ toothbrush, as I occasionally may have done. But I don’t agree it’s just a case of load him on the stretcher and play on.

I’m not saying Ferguson meant to knock Chanel senseless. But from first-hand experience, some players can load a forearm better than others, either haphazardly or with a degree of intent.  

Having used the forearm as both a shield and a sword, should Ferguson not at least share some blame and some duty of care? Is there not at least a case for contributory negligence?  

That there wasn’t even a penalty in Chanel’s case demonstrates how far payer safety has a way go. 

As an extension of this, former head of the referees Greg McCallum has this week stated publicly: “The game is in crisis.”

The rules that held the game’s framework together are now a cheap, plastic imitation of what once locked in each facet of our game. The fundamentals like playing the ball, not laying in the ruck, standing onside, not changing one’s line to impede a kick-chaser, hanging on to the ball, or tackling within the rules seem to be discretionary in the modern game. I mean, people who have been around the game for 50 years can’t explain many of the contemporary interpretations, so what chance the casual observer? 

In truth, the NRL has allowed this mess to develop as they’ve probed in search of an improved, faster, more attractive product for broadcast sale.  On this point, if you think broadcasters have no say about how the game is managed, after kicking in multi-billion dollar sums, you believe in Santa Claus. 

Think half-time interviews of coaches, Freddy Fittler on the field, bunker decisions that give high exposure to a fried-chicken company, golden point and leaving players on the field, despite foul play, so it remains a contest. Oh, sorry, that’s for the benefit of our gaming partners, also. 

 But the buck has to stop with the NRL CEO for allowing the decay to worsen on his watch. I feel for referees boss Tony Archer. One can only imagine all the whispers in his ear about what needs to happen to make the game more appealing. But you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Fix it before the semis, please.

SHOULD Wests members support their board’s proposal to take over the Knights? Now, I’m not a member, so to the extent it’s any of my business, I think it’s a no-brainer.  Yes!

As a member of earlier incarnations of the Knights, I know I speak for many similarly disenfranchised when I say: “Please take it on. We need you.”

 Their CEO has stated it’s a risk but they were left with little choice. But on examination, I can’t see much downside here at all if the community takes a stake. In fact, if Wests Group’s formidable, if presumed in the NRL space, expertise is brought to bear under such conditions, I’ve little doubt they can be a raging success. 

Naturally, we’re all a bit gun-shy after the Tinkler disaster. But putting on-field success to one side, which is like breathing without lungs, the financial potential appears positive.  With some rough numbers I drew from old board papers and recent Nrl reports, one can start to see a sustainable financial model take shape. 

Servicing a cost-base of approx $24 million, the NRL’s $13 milion grant goes a long way to funding operations. Particularly when only $9.2 million is likely to be for players. Literally, free money. 

Needing another $11-12 million to break even, a club typically relies on conventional revenue streams like sponsorship, crowds, corporate/hospitality and  merchandise. Now, I know Knights’ sponsorship in 2008 was $5.5 million, and average home crowds of 18,750 generated nearly $3 million.  

Knock those figues up for more recent times, factor in improved crowds, and the club should confidently budget for $7 million and $3.5 million respectively. That’s $23.5 million right there.

Compared to 2008, there are minimal expenses around stadium or horticulture, leaving corporate and merchandise income to make up the balance.

A good deal for everyone.

Looking forward, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for the community to retake its heritage. Members should support this once-proud community icon. Together we can rekindle the days of gold, and give our kids and the region something to be proud of again.