When the ill-fated Nathan Tinkler reign of the Newcastle Knights ended in May 2014 the search for a new owner began and although it took over three years to officially end the search there was only ever one logical organisation to take over – Wests Group.
Wests Group is a Newcastle based and owned organisation who have been in the Hunter for over 57 years, they own and run six registered clubs, three hotels and a chain of fitness clubs. Although Wests have a very successful portfolio, giving back to the community is an important part of their identity and when you think about the community of Newcastle you think Newcastle Knights. Since their inception to the NSWRL competition in 1988 the Knights have been a flagship for the community and Wests have been there in the background supporting The Knights since the beginning. Although they’ve had their issues before it’s always seemed a perfect marriage, so when the NRL went looking for a suitable buyer Wests were always on top of the list.
Wests were in no rush to take over the Knights instead they let the NRL chase them as they waited out the process of the governing body sifting through various other potential buyers before they realised the local club was their only viable option. Once they came to the negotiation table Wests stood firm on their conditions for the purchase of the Knights only accepting their terms. The NRL wanted Wests to inherit the debt Newcastle had built up but instead Wests offered to pledge 10 Million dollars to build a centre of excellence and home base for the Knights, the NRL excepted and after a membership vote passed the motion Wests Group had officially taken over the Knights and they did it on their terms. It’s this type of shrewd business sense that will serve the Knights well off the field which should in turn provide success on the field.
Wests understand Newcastle, they understand the people and they understand how much the club means to the community. They also understand Football and although a NRL side is a business, its business is winning Football games and anything else that comes with it. Marketing, sponsorship and memberships all flow on from being successful on the field. Wests know this and they will already have a plan of how they’re going to turn the struggling club they’ve purchased into one that the community can be proud of as they try and restore Newcastle to their glory days of the late 90’s early 2000’s.
Luckily the good work has already started, with coach Nathan Brown’s roster clean out finished the club has started to recruit some very good players for next season like Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson, Tautau Moga and Aiden Guerra. The young players Brown blooded last season are also starting to find their feet with local juniors Brock Lamb, Daniel & Jacob Saifit, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Josh King growing each week. CEO of Wests Group Phil Gardner ( who was the main driving force behind the purchase ) said the board sees Nathan Brown as a ’10 year coach’ as Wests can recognise Brown’s vision and the effect he has on the players.
The confidence the club’s new owners have in Brown will also rub off on the players and who’s to say it hasn’t already? Since it was announced Wests would take over, Newcastle has won three games straight knocking off top eight hopefuls St George and Parramatta on the way, three wins in a row from a side who had only won three games previously under Brown in 18 months, coincidence? Maybe but the dark cloud hovering over the club since Tinkler left had finally gone away, no longer will there be talks of relocation to Ipswich and with Wests steering the ship the feeling around the club is of security and a bright future, this new positive feeling throughout the club will no doubt have made it through to the players.
Knowing their club has a secure and stable management will give the players one less thing to stress about and with the Centre of Excellence coming and the vision Wests have Newcastle is now a desirable club to play for and the players have shown in the last three weeks, they’re playing with plenty of desire and determination. You can argue that players are professionals and they shouldn’t let off field things distract them, but they’re only human and as negative things off the field can effect their on field play, positive energy spreading through the club can lift the players to on field success.
Newcastle go into the last three rounds looking to build on their three match winning streak as they try and avoid the wooden spoon which looks like a hard task with a tough run home. But even if they can’t avoid their third consecutive spoon the club and fans can be happy with where the club is at on and off the field with their future secured in Newcastle and their roster for 2018 filled with players on the up. Good times are not far away for the pride of the Hunter and when those good times arrive the fans and players can thank Wests Group for making it happen.