HE will reportedly cost the Knights at least $4 million over the next four seasons, but Mitchell Pearce is already starting to earn his keep.
Since Newcastle announced a week ago that they had signed the former Roosters halfback, they have experienced a welcome surge in membership sales.
“Certainly more than 1000 [members] have signed up since we announced Mitchell,” Wests Group/Knights chief executive Phil Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
The Knights revealed earlier this week that they had passed the 10,000-members milestone for 2018. By Thursday afternoon that figure was 10,115 but a host of applications were still in a processing queue.
Gardner said a more accurate count was “closing in on 12,000” and was optimistic about surpassing the club-record 18,000 membership tally of 2012, the much-hyped first season of the Nathan Tinkler-Wayne Bennett era.
“We’ve set ourselves a goal of getting to a record number of members,” Gardner said.
“Hopefully by the end of the season, we can have up around 18,000. That’s our target.
“Certainly 15,000 looks likely and achievable, but we’re aiming for 18,000, to get our highest-ever number of memberships.
“We’ll need some reasonable performances to get there, but we set big goals and we try to achieve them.”
Despite collecting their third successive wooden spoon last season, the Knights arrested five years of declining home crowds.
Since 2012, when Newcastle average attendance was 20,919, turnouts dwindled from 18,836 (2013), to 17,616 (2014), to 15,891 (2015) and 14,457 (2016). Last season’s 15,619 was evidence of a turnaround.
Only Brisbane (31,929), Melbourne (19,424), the Roosters (16,769), North Queensland (16,528) and Parramatta (16,419) – all of whom made the play-offs – had larger average home crowds last season than Newcastle.
Next year, after the addition of drawcards like Pearce, Connor Watston and Aidan Guerra from the Roosters, Kalyn Ponga (North Queensland) and Brisbane duo Tautau Moga and Herman Ese’ese, Newcastle fans can expect to be celebrating wins on a more regular basis.
Gardner said the recruitment of Pearce was a coup on a number of fronts.
“It’s a pivotal signing for us,” he said.
“We’re confident other players will want to come and play with Mitchell. He’s that sort of player.”
The Knights declared on their website this week that they offer “the cheapest reserved seats in the league at just $12.50 per game for adults, and less than $6 for kids”.
Newcastle are marketing an array of different membership packages, from the 12-game “platinum” tickets that cost $395 for adults, down to a $30 deal that caters for fans who are unable to attend games.
Meanwhile, Newcastle prop Jacob Saifiti resumed training on Thursday for the first time since helping Fiji reach the World Cup semi-finals.
The only players in coach Nathan Brown’s squad who are yet to join in the pre-season preparation are props Chris Heinghington (Cronulla) and Ese’ese, both of whom featured in last season’s play-offs and then the World Cup.