Wests chief executive Phil Gardner will replace Matt Gidley as Newcastle Knights CEO.

IN: Phil Gardner.
IN: Phil Gardner.

WESTS Group chief executive Phil Gardner will juggle two of the biggest jobs in Newcastle after stepping in to replace Matt Gidley as CEO of the Knights.

OUT: Matt Gidley.

OUT: Matt Gidley.

The Knights announced on Friday that Gidley would “stand down” on November 1 from the position he has held since June, 2011.

That will also be the day that Wests assume full ownership of the Knights after completing their transitional joint-venture with the NRL.

Rather than advertising or seeking expressions of interest to replace Gidley, Gardner said he would handle the role himself for an indefinite period.

“We’re committed to making this a benchmark organisation, as good as anything else in the league,” Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.

“To do that, I need to shoulder the leadership of that organisation, and I will  … I can’t delegate that responsibility to someone else. The community have put a lot of faith and confidence in us, and now it’s up to the [Wests] board and myself to deliver on it.”

Asked if he saw himself as the long-term CEO of the Knights, Gardner said that was “all up for negotiation” and Wests would review the situation once they felt the Knights were stabilised.

“I think the best thing is that I get in there and do the job for the short term, and once we get through that, we’ll stop and have a look at who the right people are, from the administration side, and the football side,’’ he said.

He said Wests felt it was important to have a Novocastrian managing their new acquisition for the initial phase of the takeover, before considering the long-term options. “I won’t be around forever,” Gardner said.

“So it’s important that we also put in place a succession and transition plan, as well.”

He was unconcerned about the workload. “I’ve never not been busy,’’ he said.

Gardner said one of his first tasks would be to ensure the Knights were fully resourced, both on and off the field.

Wests will then set about securing an advisory board for the Knights with specific football expertise.

“The people making the football decisions have to be people with football skills, and they will be held accountable for those decisions,” he said.

He said the “door is still open” for Gidley to continue working for the Knights in some capacity. 

“We’d be interested in finding a role for Matt and Kurt [Gidley] when he gets back from England,’’ Gardner said.

Gidley said he felt it was “an appropriate time” to step aside, given the transition to new ownership.

Asked about his future, he said he was “open-minded” and looking “forward to taking a bit of a breath and we’ll see where to from there”.

He said he was “really proud” of Newcastle’s players, staff and fans for their resilience during some tough times, but was confident the Knights have “put some long-term pillars in place” to underpin a revival.

“The club has faced significant challenges in the last decade and we have navigated our way through this period, which has required enormous change to be implemented across the organisation,” Gidley said.

“The vast majority of this change is now complete and it is an appropriate time for me to take a break.

“I would like to thank the board of directors, staff, players, partners, members and supporters for your patience and loyalty while we undertook the arduous task of rebuilding the club. I am very confident the foundations have now been established to deliver the club and the team you all fully deserve.”

The NRL’s chief financial officer, Tony Crawford, said Gidley had made “a wonderful contribution” in his six years as CEO.

“There is no doubt Matt leaves the club in a significantly stronger position to deliver long-term success, both on and off the field,” Crawford said.

* The Once a Knight Old Boys will hold their annual grand final luncheon at Newcastle Jockey Club auditorium on Friday. 

More than 50 tickets are still available and can be obtained by emailing Steve Crowe, at sc@channelzero.com.au. 


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