Robert Dillon: Sporting Declaration

SOME might assume Phil Gardner already has enough on his hands. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day.

JUGGLING ACT: Phil Gardner will handle two of the most high-profile jobs in town, as CEO of both the Wests Group and Newcastle Knights. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

JUGGLING ACT: Phil Gardner will handle two of the most high-profile jobs in town, as CEO of both the Wests Group and Newcastle Knights. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

For 22 years, he has held one of the most high-profile positions in town, chief executive of the Wests Group, which he has helped transform from a lone club in New Lambton into a mini-empire of licensed establishments.

It’s a big job and presumably he works long hours.

So news that Gardner is going to replace Matt Gidley as CEO of the Knights would suggest he either has a masochistic streak or the attitude that if you want something done properly, do it yourself.

My guess is the latter.

Gardner is clearly comfortable that he can juggle both roles, whatever the additional workload.

And, if you think about it, him taking the reins of the Knights, once Wests assume full ownership on November 1, makes perfect sense.

He could have easily appointed a replacement for Gidley, but that would only retain an unnecessary link in the chain of command.

That person would have then had to liaise with Gardner on virtually every decision, and he would then have had to refer it to the Wests board to ratify or reject.

By taking charge himself, nothing will get lost in interpretation.

By now Gardner surely knows the business of running Wests, inside and out. It is a well-oiled machine.

What he wants is to understand the business of running the Knights just as intimately.

And what better way than by starting from scratch with a hands-on approach?

Moreover, Gardner has no qualms in admitting that he will take advice from an advisory board appointed specifically because of their football expertise.

It will undoubtedly take time, and perhaps represents their greatest challenge, but Gardner and the Wests board will be hoping that they can eventually turn the Knights around – just as they have done with so many ailing clubs around the region.

Once that goal has been achieved, maybe then Gardner can start searching for a successor as Knights CEO.

By that point he will be well aware of exactly what the position entails, and have an idea of who might have the skill set to replace him.

Before then, however, any number of important decisions will need to be made, none more crucial than whether to extend the contract of coach Nathan Brown.

This could potentially represent a dilemma. 

Much as the Knights have shown signs of progress, the bottom line is they have collected two wooden spoons under Brown, who has one season to run on the three-year deal he initially signed.

While clubs who chop and change coaches rarely succeed, Wests are entitled to want further evidence that Brown’s team is heading in the right direction.

The problem is that by waiting until next season has kicked off to assess the situation, speculation about Brown’s future could become a distraction that de-stabilises the team.

It’s a Catch 22 conundrum, but Gardner has already proposed a common-sense solution.

It seems likely Wests will offer Brown an extension during their pre-season, before 2018 kicks off, but with performance-related clauses built in.

In other words, if Newcastle’s results continue to improve and they climb the ladder, everyone’s a winner.

If – as was the case with Des Hasler at Canterbury this season – there is a downturn, Wests will have covered themselves with a contingency plan.

It all seems reasonable to this columnist. As a friend who knows far more about running the Knights than me observed: “Wests are making all the right noises.”

Garth an obvious option

IT is yet to be confirmed, but there are rumours that Knights coach Nathan Brown is likely to lose his two right-hand men, assistants Mick Potter and Kurt Wrigley. 

OPTION: Garth Brenna

OPTION: Garth Brenna

A ready-made replacement could be close at hand, in the form of Penrith’s NSW Cup-winning (and former Knights under-20s) coach Garth Brennan, who commutes each week between his home in Stockton and the foot of the Blue Mountains. 

Brennan should be well known to Wests’ board of directors from his days as a grand final-winning fullback with the Rosellas. 

Surely he would be worth a call.

England’s hopes cop a beating

REMEMBER when David Warner put one on Joe Root’s chin and missed two Tests of the 2013 Ashes series  in England?

With that in mind, it will be intriguing to see what sanction the Poms hand down to all-rounder Ben Stokes after his disgraceful drunken brawl in Bristol at the weekend.

SCANDAL: Ben Stokes

SCANDAL: Ben Stokes

I can’t see any alternative other than sacking Stokes from their Ashes squad. 

He could soon be facing criminal charges, including assault occasioning actual bodily harm. But he is arguably England’s most important player, and the Poms know that their hopes Down Under hinge on his contributions.


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