Tinkler exits with parting shot

End of an era: The Newcastle Knights are preparing for life after Nathan Tinkler. Photo: Nic Walker
End of an era: The Newcastle Knights are preparing for life after Nathan Tinkler. Photo: Nic Walker

Nathan Tinkler has blown full-time on his tumultuous tenure as Newcastle Knights owner in typically defiant fashion, taking a parting swipe at his critics and adversaries.
In a statement on the Knights website, Tinkler announced yesterday he was relinquishing ownership of the troubled NRL club, a development that caught both the NRL and Knights Members Club partly by surprise.

But Tinkler added that before any formal handover all the Knights liabilities would need to be resolved – without specifying how much debt the club was in or who he expected to pay the bills.

“We are determined to do everything to make it a smooth transition, but we require all accounts to be settled before leaving the club – then it will be up to others to take the club forward,’’ Tinkler said yesterday.

“Once all liabilities are paid there will be adequate cash flow available to support the new owners.’’

Tinkler reflected proudly on his term as the Knights’ inaugural private owner, which began after a historic ballot on March 31, 2011, at which 97 per cent of members endorsed him.

But many of his proclamations, especially those relating to finances, remain unverified.

“After injecting over $20 million of my own money it is time to stand aside, and hopefully the Knights will prosper and not revert to the old management style and formula that almost sent the club into liquidation three years ago,’’ Tinkler said.

“Since HSG took over the Knights, we have lifted the annual spend of football operations to be over $3million above the average NRL club.

“Commercial reality will mean staffing numbers will now need to be reviewed, grants cut to the junior league programs and the local Newcastle competition.

“I have done my bit for the town by investing more than $20million and saving the Knights from liquidation and now it is time for someone else to step up to the plate.’’

Tinkler denied reports that the Knights had racked up $20million in liabilities during HSG’s three years at the helm, although a number of informed sources have told the Herald this figure was accurate.

“Any figure like this could only include money I have put onto the club,’’ he said.

‘‘The debts of the club are substantially less than the $10.5 million, which is currently sitting in a bank account [after HSG defaulted on a bank guarantee] and not earning interest.”

Tinkler also disputed the members club’s entitlement to buy the Knights back for $1 after HSG reneged on the bank guarantee on March 31.

“If this is the case, why hasn’t the members club stepped in, instead of resorting to the protracted negotiations?” Mr Tinkler said.

He also complained that the Knights members club had ‘‘stalled the process’’ of a handover during protracted negotiations he said had ‘‘dragged on for over 10 weeks’’.

Tinkler voiced his frustration at the Newcastle media’s coverage of the Knights during the HSG era.

“I cannot understand why the local press simply want to criticise the club, its players and attempt to bring down everything that is great about Newcastle and the Knights,’’ he said.

“If people don’t put self-interest in front of what is best for the Knights, the future is extremely bright.

“The club is in a far better position than it was when HSG took over, with the club then drowning in $7million of debt, inadequate administration facilities and no formal training facility.”

It is understood HSG agreed in principle to hand over the Knights four days ago – but only once financial terms had been agreed.

That meant yesterday’s announcement blindsided both the NRL and members club.

The NRL’s head of club services, Tony Crawford, who has been overseeing crisis talks for the past two months, said in a statement: “Negotiations over the new ownership structure of the Newcastle Knights are advancing and will continue next week.

“We remain focused on ensuring the Newcastle Knights remains a strong and healthy club in the interests of its players, staff and fans.”
Crawford said there would be no further comment until negotiations were finalised.

Members club chairman Nick Dan declined to reply to Tinkler’s criticisms, saying only: ‘‘I’ll keep my powder dry on that.’’

Dan noted that if the $1 buy-back option was not legally valid, Tinkler did not object to that three years ago when it was part of his sales pitch.

Of Tinkler’s imminent departure, Dan said: ‘‘I read the press release and I was pleased to see the reference to a lot of good things they did for the club.’’
Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group also operate the Newcastle Jets A-League club.

Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby did not reply to messages from the Herald yesterday but the club posted on their Twitter account that the Knights ownership change ‘‘does not involve or impact the Newcastle Jets’’ and added it is ‘‘business as usual’’ as they ‘‘move forward’’ with planning for the 2014-15 A-League season.

The Newcastle Herald

This story Tinkler exits with parting shot first appeared on Brisbane Times.