If the Newcastle Knights are to seriously challenge for NRL premierships over the next decade, it won’t be off the back of a host of big money marquee signings from rival clubs.
If anyone thinks that, they are living in fantasy land.
The reality is premierships will be won the same way they were won back in 1997 and 2001 – largely on the strength of home-grown talent and younger players with a sprinkling of big stars thrown into the mix.
Producing their own talent remains the key to the Knights chances of becoming a real powerhouse in the competition again.
History tells us that and the club is learning that not even having a fistful of dollars in the bank is likely to change it.
A lack of finances in the past may have cost the Knights a number of outstanding young players to cashed-up rivals and hindered the club’s ability to compete on the open market for the elite top-end-of town players.
But there are no such issues now and yet, the Knights still seem to have a lot more misses than hits on the recruitment front.
Why is that? Why is it still a struggle, in many cases, to even get the big names to the table for a chat, let alone some serious negotiations?
It’s not money. The real issue is location. Simply put, we are not in Sydney. And while most of you reading this are probably thinking ‘thank God for that’, it remains the biggest hurdle facing Nathan Brown and Darren Mooney right now.
No matter how much we all love Newcastle and think it is the greatest place in the world with its great beaches, casual life-style and ease of getting around, getting highly paid players to commit to re-locating here is not easy.
It’s no different to way back in 1988 when the Knights kicked off and club officials wanted to start building a team around St George’s Kangaroo prop, Pat Jarvis.
Jarvis’ response to overtures from the Knights at the time was: “Why would I want to move up there.”
Even when Andrew Johns was setting the NRL alight during the glory years when the club was a powerhouse, how many big-name rival players were knocking the door down to move to Newcastle to be a part of it? Very few.
To the frustration of Brown and Mooney and plenty of Knights fans, nothing has really changed.
Yes, Mitchell Pearce is an obvious exception along with a couple of the other Roosters players.
But the Knights genuinely got lucky with Pearce when a series of cards unexpectedly fell their way and they had money available to take advantage.
But when you look at plenty of other targets, the Knights didn’t even get to first base with the likes of James Maloney, Kieran Foran, Cooper Cronk, Aaron Woods and Dylan Napa, just to name a handful.
When your family is settled with your kids in school in Sydney or your wife or partner has a good job, the option to go to another Sydney club, which is what Maloney and Woods have done, is far easier and more appealing than up-rooting everyone and moving north.
In the case of Cronk, he moved to Sydney for love so the Knights were never a chance. Foran met with Brown on the Central Coast but never seriously considered the Knights because his kids are in Sydney.
Napa couldn’t even be bothered to make a trip up the freeway for talks when he was off contract at the Roosters and I’m hearing Bulldogs prop David Klemmer doesn’t want to leave Sydney either, even if he suddenly became available.
This week, Blake Ferguson became the latest big name to reject the Knights.
It wasn’t the money [the Knights offered slightly more than the Eels] but because he is estranged from his partner and in the end, the easier option was for him to remain in Sydney to be closer to his two young kids.
It may be hard for many Knights fans to comprehend but the reality is Newcastle is, and always has been, a tough sell for plenty of outside recruits for any number of reasons.
It’s why owners Wests Group and the football department is throwing loads of resources at development.
Ultimately, the club’s success hinges on it.
This Bronco has already bolted
It didn’t take long for the Knights to be linked to another winger after they lost out to the Parramatta Eels during the week for the signature of Blake Ferguson.
It was reported the club now had impressive young Brisbane Bronco Jamayne Isaako in their sights.
Only trouble is we hear that horse has already bolted.
Isaako has apparently already decided on a club for next season with the Knights told they’d be wasting their time if they pursued it.
Our mail is he will either stay in Brisbane or announce he is moving to the Sydney Roosters as Ferguson’s replacement.
McCloy snaps up Pearce
Mitchell Pearce has a new job.
The Knights co-captain, who makes his comeback next week after three months on the sideline, has become the public face of the McCloy Group’s charities and community development projects in the Hunter region.
Pearce’s role will include driving awareness of the charities that are supported by the McCloy Group.
“His determination, passion and personable approach on and off field in Newcastle made Mitchell the perfect representative” chairman, Jeff McCloy said.
Changing of the guard
We’re expected a changing of the guard in the coaching ranks in the Newcastle RL next season.
Craig Miller will finish up at Central at the end of the season and has recommended Kurri legend Phil Williams take over while at least two other clubs could be looking for new men at the helm.
Cessnock coach Al Lantry will be back for another year however following his re-appointment this week.
NSW Blues snub junior Knights
The Knights Jersey Flegg side failed to get a player in the NSW Under 20’s side to meet the Maroons on Wednesday night despite leading the Jersey Flegg competition.
But they will have impressive youngster Beau Fermor in the Queensland side.
Meanwhile, Knights Harold Matts squad members Jonah Pezet and Noah Reed have both made the Australian Schoolboys Under 15’s merit team following the championships in Mackay.