nib Newcastle Knights CEO Matt Gidley provided an update for Members and fans at the half way point of season 2017.
Question: How do you look back over the first half of the year across all Club operations?
Matt Gidley: It would be easy to reflect solely on our ladder position now, and we would agree with our fans that it is disappointing.
If we look back at the start of our campaign, we were buoyed by the signing of Kalyn Ponga to a long-term contract that commences in 2018. From there we had the disappointment of losing Jarrod Mullen on the eve of the season and also the loss of key signing Rory Kostjasyn indefinitely to a throat injury. Jamie Buhrer has also been sidelined with an injury that has limited his influence since joining the Club.
We have increased investment into our junior development to ensure we continue to identify, develop and retain the best local talent. Our Harold Matts (Under 16s) team were undefeated minor and major premiers this year. This a direct indication that the investment will pay dividends for the Club well into the future.
Off the field, we are progressing with our plans for a Centre of Excellence and the NRL continues to work through the ownership of our Club.
The Club continues to punch above its weight in terms of its commercial success. Recent NRL benchmarking data, which compares the commercial performance of all 16 NRL clubs, demonstrated the Newcastle Knights' strengths. Currently the Club is ranked in the top eight for key commercial indicators across our membership, sponsorship, match day and hospitality programs. These are pleasing results and we thank all our partners, corporate supporters, Members and fans for ensuring the sustainability of our Club.
Q: What challenges are you facing in regard to player recruitment?
MG: Recruiting talent into a team that is consistently performing at a high standard is always an easier task. However, this will not discourage our Club in any way. We will continue to pursue the best talent to improve our roster. There will be significant movement in the player market right up until the start of the 2018 season and our Club will be well positioned to capitalise on any opportunities that present themselves. We have the opportunity to sign new players on a daily basis. It is important any player we recruit to the Club is coming for the right reasons.
Q: What positions are your key recruitment targets?
MG: We are looking to recruit further depth, talent and experience into our roster across various positions. Now we have signed Kalyn Ponga in the fullback position we feel recruiting across this criteria will complement the existing and emerging talent within the Club. The player market has been highly active recently with many clubs finalising their rosters for the next three to four years. History shows many significant player transfers have taken place post-season and given the uncertainty with the salary cap, our Club feels there may be opportunities to strengthen the roster right until the start of the 2018 season.
Q: Was Dane Gagai’s decision to play elsewhere next season a setback?
MG: Dane has made a significant contribution to the Club on and off the field since arriving in 2012. It is always disappointing to lose quality people, but we understand his decision. We know he will continue to lead our team this season and help our young squad.
Q: You mentioned the loss of Jarrod Mullen before the season kicked off, how challenging has that been for the Club?
MG: As we have said all along, what has happened with Jarrod has been disappointing. There is no doubt he made a wonderful contribution to the game over many years, and that adds to the disappointment in how he has left our game. We understand it was an error of judgement and he is now paying a heavy price for that mistake. We wish him and his family well for the future.
Q: Can you please provide an update concerning the proposed Centre of Excellence?
MG: The application process is now complete. Our Club has submitted a very strong final application to the State and Federal Government for funding towards a Centre of Excellence. We expect to receive confirmation within the next four weeks on whether we have been able to secure funding and we will inform our Members and supporters at this time. The Club is confident that if successful, we will be able to build an elite training facility that will support the development of rugby league and elite athletes and the delivery of meaningful community programs into Newcastle and regional NSW.
Q: There is a lot of media speculation around the Club’s ownership, is there anything new to share with Members and fans?
MG: The NRL is still in negotiations with an interested party regarding ownership. The Club’s management will continue to support the sale process to ensure the best long-term ownership for the Club is secured.
Q: Can you explain the current CBA negotiations and what it means from a Club perspective?
MG: The NRL is currently negotiating the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA). The CBA will be the key document that articulates all details regarding the salary cap and various key matters between the clubs, players and the NRL across the 2018-2022 period. The uncertainty regarding the salary cap and pathways structures is far from ideal, but the Club is using the guidance given by the NRL in both areas to ensure we are well positioned across all key areas of the game at the conclusion of the CBA negotiations.
Q: When is the NRL expected to announce the schedule for the final six rounds of the 2017 season?
MG: In previous years, the scheduling of the final six rounds is confirmed in the week leading into or closely following Round 16, and we are working towards that as a timeframe.
Q: Crowds continue to remain solid in Newcastle. What can we look forward to in the second half of the season?
MG: The crowds and support that our team receives is the best in the game. Our supporters are the envy of many clubs and continue to provide inspiration to our young team.
Our current home record for the season to date is two wins and four losses, with some of these games extremely close. We have been in a positon to win every home game so far this year.
We still have six home games to go, culminating in our final home game against the Sharks where will be celebrating the 20-year anniversary of our 1997 grand final victory with many of the players from that team attending the game. We also have the upcoming Voice for Mining Family Day against the Wests Tigers at our next home game on July 2, which will mark our return to McDonald Jones Stadium after a six-week break.
We sincerely appreciate the role the crowd continues to play in motivating our team to perform to their potential and hope to see you at a game soon.