ONE of the most eagerly anticipated boardroom elections in the Newcastle Knights' history is shaping as a clash of contrasting philosophies.
Incumbent director Mark Fitzgibbon reaffirmed his belief yesterday that the Knights need more business acumen on their board.
But other election candidates fear football nous will be sacrificed and privately expressed concerns about the prospect of the NIB chief executive and his allies gaining a balance of power.
As one candidate told The Herald : "They're coming from the big end of the town and they'll put business before football."
But Fitzgibbon, a Knights director since 2005, made no apologies for wanting to increase the commercial expertise in the boardroom and admitted he was disappointed with the overall quality of candidates.
"I think a lot of people don't appreciate how serious the Knights' financial predicament remains," he said. "I think things that we've all read about this week are testimony to that.
"We do need a board that has sufficient commercial experience and expertise to ensure that we not only preserve the club, but ensure that it prospers into the future. You cannot have a good football team without a commercially successful club, and vice versa."
It is understood Fitzgibbon can count on the support of two high-profile incumbents deputy chairman Allan McKeown and former Knights captain Paul Harragon.
He is also close friends with solicitor Peter Bale, a new nominee.
There have been rumours that marriage celebrant Helen Scott was also on their "ticket", but Fitzgibbon denied that was the case.
"I don't even know Helen Scott. Wouldn't know her from a bar of soap," Fitzgibbon said. "I'm not endorsing anyone. At one point we did discuss a ticket, but we thought the whole idea of a ticket was not in the spirit of the election process and we very deliberately dismissed the idea.
"It never even got off the ground, and whoever is saying otherwise has purely political motives."
The other incumbents to nominate for the seven vacancies are chairman Peter Corcoran and Nick Dan.
Challenges will come from former players Tony Butterfield and Robbie Tew, Knights founding father Leigh Maughan and retired butcher Bob Lyons.
The ballot box closes on Monday, and the new board will be announced on Wednesday at the Knights' annual general meeting.
Tew is the official nomination of the influential old boys' association, although it is also endorsing Butterfield, Maughan and Corcoran.
If Tew and Butterfield are elected, as expected, they are likely to receive the backing of the two directors appointed by the Newcastle Rugby League board, Trevor Crow and Vince Murphy.
Fitzgibbon, Harragon and McKeown are all likely to retain their positions, while the odds appear stacked against Scott and Lyons.
That is likely to leave Dan, Maughan, Corcoran and Bale competing for the remaining two positions on the board and possibly the casting vote on who will be elected chairman and other crucial issues.
Several of those candidates are sceptical about Fitzgibbon's vision for the board.
Corcoran was diplomatic yesterday but said the "board most appropriate" would comprise "football-oriented people with business acumen".
Fitzgibbon, however, appeared less than impressed with the collective acumen assembled.
"Frankly, it was disappointing we didn't get more Newcastle people who have the right type of commercial experience and expertise to put their hands up," he said.
As for concerns that he and his allies would secure the balance of power, Fitzgibbon replied: "Hopefully we have a united board. There's certainly not going to be any caucusing.
"There's hopefully going to be a sense of purpose that unites people. In particular we need a board who don't have entrenched views of how the future might look, and who have the creativity and foresight to think about how we might structure the club's finances into the future."