Knights to operate like it's 1997
Freshly installed chairman Brian McGuigan has vowed to return the Knights to the people of Newcastle and recapture the euphoric scenes surrounding their maiden premiership in 1997 following three years of private ownership.
The founder of McGuigan Wines and now a director of Australian Vintage Limited, McGuigan heads an impressive list of new directors looking to help the club reconnect with the local community in the wake of the failed ownership tenure of mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, himself a proud Novocastrian whose takeover was overwhelmingly approved by Knights members in March 2011.
Tinkler relinquished his ownership of the Knights in late May and since that time the club has operated under an ownership structure where the NRL owns 80 per cent of the Knights and the Knights Members Club holds a 20 per cent stake in the club.
Along with McGuigan the Knights Board will consist of highly credentialed Hunter Valley affiliated people including Eileen Doyle (Director Newcastle Ports), Mark Fitzgibbon (CEO of nib Health Funds), Katie Brassil (General Manager of External Affairs at Centennial Coal), Philip Gardner (CEO of the Wests Group), John Quayle (Chairman of Venues NSW and former ARL CEO) and Peter Shear (NRL advisor and former Lloyds Banking Group executive).
It's an impressive collection of business clout at the one football club but McGuigan insists the first order of business will not be about money, but about people.
"The fans are just so important to any team, just look at what has happened down at Western Sydney [Wanderers] in the last week or so and look at who won the [NRL] competition this year," McGuigan said, referencing the A-League's Asian champions and NRL premiers, the South Sydney Rabbitohs. "That's people power in action because the community really made those teams.
"We need all the fans to be very much behind the team, we need the community behind the team, we need the management, we need the coaches, we need everybody to be one team committed to take us from this point to the stars.
"We can't look backwards but these things do happen from time to time, there have been changes that didn't work out... I'd prefer to remember the good times in 1997. Will we ever forget the bus trip of the players coming back from Sydney and the celebrations here in Newcastle that went on for days?
"That's the spirit that we want to re-engender into this community and hopefully get everybody behind the Knights so that Newcastle can be No.1 again.
"When the Knights are going well, there's an upbeat in the city and around the city and people get excited about the upcoming games on the weekend. If the Knights are not going so well, we're all down in the mouth and we don't give the backing. We want to make sure the Knights fire."
Knights CEO Matt Gidley echoed the sentiments of his new chairman, suggesting that the club has some work to do to win back the full faith of the local community.
"Certainly from my understanding the [directors] all want to see the community re-engage with the club, I think everyone understands that the Knights is such a precious community asset," Gidley said.
"When we did all that right we've had enormous success previously so that's certainly going to be the focus for the club.
"The announcement of the new Board will bring confidence to the entire community. It's been a topic of interest for a number of months now but I think everyone will be really excited by the news.
"Personally I think the calibre of the people on the Board is quite remarkable and I'm really looking forward to working closely with them all."
The announcement of a new Board and the security of the NRL-controlled ownership structure provides much-needed stability to a team representing one of rugby league's great heartlands.
"The NRL have done so much to look after the Knights during this difficult time and I think the NRL have fulfilled their promise to the district by having a group of Novocastrians and Hunter Valley-ites who will now be responsible for the organisation of the club and also, the very important thing, they have assisted in making sure the financial future of the club is well in hand," McGuigan said.
"We have been assured that we will have funding for the next two years, whether that's adequate I'm not too sure at the moment because we haven't really had a Board meeting, but we need to ensure that we also enlist the support of the community.
"We have got some very capable people on the Board who will make sure that our governance is right, make sure that our figures are right and make sure that we move forward. That may mean that we need other sponsors, we might need to take other tacts to make sure that our financial viability is all in place and is flexible enough to handle our future."
Gidley conceded that there remains much work to be done before the Knights can be considered a profitable entity but insisted that they have no intention of becoming reliant on NRL handouts.
"Certainly our focus from a management point of view is not to look for any funding from the NRL," he said. "We're looking to build a business and take control of our costs, we've been looking at that closely over the last few months.
"There's a bit of work to be done and I think the directors can certainly help us with that. Our focus right now is the financial viability long term of the club rather than the short term."