He was the prized signing who never arrived.
Long before Ivan Henjak enjoyed a three-year stint as coach of Brisbane, he was a handy playmaker pulling the strings in Canberra.
It was 1987 and the Knights were racing around recruiting players ahead of what would be their inaugural season in the NSWRL competition.
Henjak was their marquee man.
“Their highest profiled signing was Ivan Henjak from Canberra,” Newcastle Herald journalist Rob Dillon told the Our Town Our Team podcast.
“He must’ve played well over 100 first grade games for the Raiders. He was going to be their halfback in the inaugural year.
“But the year before, Canberra made the grand final and Ivan basically reneged on his deal with Newcastle and didn’t want to come here so the club took legal action and got some sort of payout.
LISTEN TO THE ROBERT DILLON PODCAST BELOW!
IF YOU'RE READING ON THE APP AND WANT TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST - CLICK HERE
“That was a big drama and issue leading into year one, whether Ivan Henjak would come here or not
“He didn’t and what that meant was they started with Steve Walters at halfback. Not Steve Walters the Test hooker, the Steve Walters from Caves Beach.
“Steve was the NSW country player of the year and Lakes United halfback. Half the way through the year, Steve Fulmer came into first grade and played from 88 until about 91.”
Having started his career with St George in 1981, the playmaker moved to the Raiders in 1984.
While he surpassed 100 top grade games, Henjak was in the sights of the Knights who were on the lookout for a top line recruit.
Having landed their man, the powerbrokers were excited but Henjak wasn’t.
In 1987, the Raiders had made the grand final with Henjak in the No.7, going down to Manly 18-8 and following a successful season, the playmaker had a change of heart.
“He had second thoughts about it,” Dillon said.
“He was probably their biggest name signing, by the end of the season and the Raiders had made the grand final, he’s probably looked at Newcastle’s roster and thought ‘you know what, they haven’t really signed much else. I don’t really want to go there’.
BTP Ep 5: Recruiting. Shadow rookie. KP Mic’d up.
“I’m not really sure why it played out the way it did but the Knights weren’t happy about it and took legal action.”
The Raiders won the premiership in 1989 but Henjak didn’t feature in the side and joined Western Suburbs the following year.
The Knights would go on to sign some talented and unheralded players who would cement their legacy in the red and blue.
“They signed blokes like Sam Stewart, who came out from New Zealand. He played test football. I think the Kiwis had beaten the Kangaroos but he’d never played in what was the NSWRL,” Dillon explained.
“Most of the guys they signed, the more high-profiled ones were the likes of David Boyd and Tony Butterfield and Marc Glanville who might’ve played 10 first grade games at other clubs.
“The guy with the most first grade experience was a guy from Balmain, Gavin Hanrahan.
“Gavin had played 30 odd games for Balmain and played half a year of first grade for the Knights.”