WESTS Group chief executive Phil Gardner has declared the Knights should be aiming to be top-four regulars in the not-too-distant future.
Wests are proceeding with plans to take over the Knights on November 1, starting with a transitional period of joint ownership with the NRL from Thursday week, after the proposal was overwhelming endorsed by a plebiscite of almost 14,000 of the club’s members.
Providing the due-dilegence period does not unearth anything unexpected and untoward, Wests will be outright owners of the city’s NRL franchise in less than three months.
Unless the Knights can overtake Wests Tigers on the points table in their four remaining games, Wests will be taking over a club at arguably its lowest ebb, as wooden spooners in three consecutive seasons.
But Gardner was supremely confident that the type of long-term success the Knights enjoyed between 1995 and 2002 was again achievable.
“We’re not going to have a wooden spoon year next year,’’ Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
“We’re hoping to be a top-four side four years out of every five. That’s the goal.
“We’re hoping to be a top-four side four years out of every five. "
“That’s where you want to get the club to. And there’s really no reason why it can’t be done.
“It’s about developing the kids, and if we’ve got the junior pathways right, in the next three to five years they’ll be coming through and hopefully we’ll be competing on a better basis with the clubs who don’t place as much emphasis on development.”
Asked where he would like to see the Knights placed next season, Gardner said: “I’d like us to win every home game.
“If we can do that, I’d be ecstatic, because it’s about the feeling of the town.
“The coach [Nathan Brown] is doing a great job and you can see the young blokes improving.
“It’s about putting the right players around them, but we’ll be disciplined because the club has learned the lesson of spending the wrong amount of money on certain players, and we’re not about to do that again.”
Newcastle have already made a host of strategic signings for next season, headed by North Queensland dynamo Kalyn Ponga, Roosters duo Aidan Guerra and Connor Watson, Brisbane pair Herman Ese’ese and Tautau Moga, and mid-season recruit Shaun Kenny-Dowall from the Roosters.
Brown still hopes to bolster his roster with several more imports, in particular front-row reinforcements.
After back-to-back wins against St George Illawarra and the Warriors, Knights legend Andrew Johns predicted last weekend that Newcastle would be play-off contenders in 2018.
"All the young players combining, they all came through the system in the SG Ball and the Jersey Flegg together," Johns said on The Sunday Footy Show.
"They're building, the Knights.
“The players they've bought next year with a bit of class, another off-season, I think next year they'll be around semi-final area, around the eight."
Gardner said it would essential that Wests install a board of directors who provide the Knights with experience and expertise in football matters.
“I’m comfortable we can do all the things we need to do around finance and financial management,’’ he said.
“I’ll live or die by that.
“But the football part of it, we need the right people involved.
“And that’s not me.
“That’s other people who give the community great confidence that they’re looking after their team and they’re making the right decisions.’’