Newcastle Knights boss Phil Gardner estimates the club lost around a staggering $50 million over the past decade and close to $10 million over the past three years when it collected three consecutive wooden spoons while being run by the NRL.
They are mind-blowing figures. They point to why, in the end, the NRL was happy just to let Wests Group take the club off their hands for a song.
It also makes Gardner’s prediction to this column this week that the Knights could finish the 2018 season slightly in the black a remarkable feat given the club’s history of financial failure.
A substantial increase in the grant from the NRL to all clubs this year will play a big part in an expected healthy bottom line for the Knights.
But there is no doubt the club is already seeing the major benefits of being run by a highly successful organisation in the Wests Group, of which Gardner is also the CEO.
It effectively means he is doing two jobs, with Wests and the Knights also sharing the same Chief Financial Officer, Nicole Russell, while there is integration in other areas of staffing.
“When you have an organisation as big as Wests, we have the scale and scope to run it [the Knights] more efficiently,” Gardner said.
“There is probably a million dollars worth of efficiency there that we have been able to drive that probably no-one else could.
“We’ll break even or make a slight profit – that is my expectation from how we are tracking.”
Gardner says he has been over-whelmed by the support from sponsors, box-holders, members and the general public attending games.
“The support has been incredible,”he told us.
“That first game against Manly - the support we had nearly bought me to tears because honestly, our great worry was the community wouldn’t support us.
“There was genuine concern on our part that because it was Wests, the feeling was going to be ‘they’ve got it, they can do it’.
“But the community has just been outstanding. Box holders, sponsors, the general public – it’s just been really humbling for everybody that has been involved and has galvanised us to make sure we deliver back to the fans.
“That pride of the region is something that is really important to us and that’s what we want. We want everyone in the community proud of the Knights and we want the players proud of themselves which is why its important we get the right players coming here.”
Ponga’s rise just the start
The Knights expect Kalyn Ponga to be the number one player in the game within two years and are already planning for the future to try and safeguard against losing him to a rival club down the track.
As it stands, the Maroons debutant is signed until the end of 2021 but that won’t stop the Knights from looking to extend him well before then.
“It will be an on-going process. It will depend on what Kalyn wants to do and what his dad thinks. Andre is a great bloke and a big influence in Kalyn’s life,” Knights CEO Phil Gardner said.
“I can assure you we’ll be having those discussions about upgrades and extensions well before his contract runs out.
“We are going to build this club around Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn and players are going to want to come because of those two guys.”
Fergo talks to be ramped up
Take it as read the Knights are in the process of making a big play for Blake Ferguson and we are hearing the only thing that will stop him coming is if the Sydney Roosters make an even bigger offer.
In Newcastle’s favour is he wants at least a three year deal which he won’t get at Bondi. The Knights have even spoken to him about potential employment opportunities working with the indigenous.
Cogger trade never on cards
Just who did the Bulldogs offer up as a trade earlier in the season when they attempted to prise Jack Cogger out of the Knights?
We’re told it was Greg Eastwood, Aiden Tolman or Kerrod Holland but the Knights said no to all three.
Jason Ryles on Knights coaching radar
First it was new Kiwi international Slade Griffin and Maroons Origin forward Tim Glasby is also on his way.
But it appears the Knights’ interest in talent from the Melbourne Storm is not just confined to their playing ranks.
We are hearing a strong whisper Storm assistant coach and former Kangaroos prop Jason Ryles is also on Newcastle’s radar and could be an addition to the Knights coaching ranks in 2019 if they can prise him out of the southern capital.
Knights coach Nathan Brown played with and coached Ryles at the Dragons and the pair are said to be good mates.
Ryles is currently the forwards coach at the Storm and highly valued by Craig Bellamy so only time will tell if he is tempted by the challenge of taking charge of the Knights pack.
Just where is Lamb headed?
There is nothing set in stone but the general feeling at the Knights is young playmaker Brock Lamb won’t be at the club next season.
Where he is headed is pure speculation but with talk Parramatta is possibly looking to trade Corey Norman for Marty Taupau, the Eels could potentially become an option if he does decide to leave as expected.
Reinforcements on the way
We can’t tell you who and they won’t be big names but expect the Knights to pick up a couple of new recruits before June 30.
The club has also kicked off negotiations to re-sign centre Cory Denniss and will do likewise with Ken Sio next week.
Confusion over Phythian origin
Sacked Knights utility Dylan Phythian was the centre of some confusion this week following news he has been cleared to play for Lakes in the Newcastle competition this weekend.
The confusion centred around whether he was in fact a Lakes or a Wests junior, which had ramifications because of the points he would attract under the competition’s player points system.
Turns out he played for Wests in the Under 14’s and 15’s and Lakes in the Under 16’s,17’s and 18’s, which by the laws of the Newcastle RL, makes him a Lakes junior.