KNIGHTS chief executive Phil Gardner said the club will be salary cap compliant next year but they are waiting to sign the right players after learning their lessons from the end of the Wayne Bennett era.
Gardner responded to a News Limited article on Tuesday which said the Newcastle Knights needed to spend about another $1.5 million on players next season to be compliant under the $9.4 million cap. Clubs have to use at least 95 per cent of the cap – $8.93 million – each year to meet terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
Gardner confirmed the Knights had “substantial headroom” under the cap but said the club would meet requirements.
“The reality is we are salary cap compliant for this year and we will be salary cap compliant for next year,” Gardner told the Herald.
“We have space under the cap if somebody comes out, but either way we will be salary cap compliant by the end of next season, October 31, and hopefully there will be some player movements between now and then.
“But we are not going to take someone who doesn’t fit the team or isn’t better for our on-field performance.”
The club is still rebuilding from the tumultuous ownership of fallen billionaire Nathan Tinkler, who brought in Bennett as coach from 2012-14.
Gardner, who became CEO after Wests Group’s acquisition of the Knights in August, said the club would continue its recruitment strategy under coach Nathan Brown and football manager Darren Mooney of this year.
“The club has been very disciplined last year in the fact that they haven’t just thrown in players at the end of their careers and signed them to long-term deals, which is what happened in the end of the Wayne Bennett era,” he said.
“We’ve learnt the lessons of that, so unless they are players who suit the club and the terms are right, we won’t be signing them.
“We are very comfortable with the roster we have. We have some very good players, and we’ve got to put the right players with them. There’s no point signing someone for the sake of signing them. We need to keep that money there for the right players.”
The report on Tuesday indicated the Knights could “front-load” existing player contracts to ensure the club meet the minimum cap standard.
“You can sign them for longer or shorter terms, pre-payments, all those things, which happens within salary cap management, but the salary cap is managed very well here by Darren Mooney,” Gardner said.
“He’s doing a great job and I think the fans can rely on us that the money spent is well spent.”
As for exactly how much cap room the Knights had, Gardner said: “It’s interesting how they worked it out, because we can’t work it out at this stage.
“There are so many incentives and bits to put into it, so we have substantial head-room under the cap for next year, for the right players who appear, but no one could put a number on it with that level of certainty.”
Gardner re-affirmed the club’s interest in talking to halfback Mitchell Pearce, who could leave the Roosters after their recruitment of Australian No.7 Cooper Cronk, but he said “there’s a long way to go”.
“Mitchell would have to first decide that he wanted to leave the Roosters, and nobody at this stage knows if he wants to or not,” he said.
“Then he would have to decide where he wants to go. Whether that was in Sydney or if he had an interest here in Newcastle.
“We’ve said all along we’d have an interest in talking to Mitchell if he wanted to talk to us, but we have that about every player in the comp.”