The NRL has said it will work towards securing the future of the Newcastle Knights after Nathan Tinkler officially walked away from the club, warning that the new owners will likely have to cut jobs and funding grants.
Mr Tinkler and the Hunter Sports Group released a statement on Friday afternoon confirming they have handed over ownership of the Newcastle Knights.
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Tinkler walks out on Knights
Nathan Tinkler and the Hunter Sports Group released a statement confirming they have handed over ownership of the Newcastle Knights. Nine News.
"I have done my bit for the town by investing more than $20 million and saving the Knights from liquidation and now it is time for someone else to step up to the plate," Mr Tinkler said.
"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."
But Mr Tinkler added that before any 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,’’ he said.
“Once all liabilities are paid there will be adequate cash flow available to support the new owners.
"Commercial reality will mean staffing numbers will now need to be reviewed, grants cut to the junior league programs and the local Newcastle competition."
The NRL said it will continue to lead negotiations with various parties to secure the future of the Knights.
“Negotiations over the new ownership structure of the Newcastle Knights are advancing and will continue next week,” Head of Club Services Tony Crawford said.
“We remain focused on ensuring the Newcastle Knights remains a strong and healthy club in the interests of its players, staff and fans.”
Hunter Sports Group, Mr Tinkler’s company which has run the Knights for the past three years, has been on borrowed time since defaulting on March 31 on a commitment to have in place a $10.52 million bank guarantee, a breach that entitled the members club to buy the franchise back for $1.
The NRL’s resolve to end the impasse hardened last Friday when about 20 Knights players and staff were not paid their monthly wages.
That prompted another meeting in Newcastle on Monday, at which an NRL spokesman said ‘‘we made some progress’’.
Mr Tinkler confirmed the Knights Members Club were now in a position to take over.
"This negotiation has dragged on for over 10 weeks and it is clear the Members club has stalled the process," Mr Tinkler said.
"Since HSG took over the Knights, we have lifted the annual spend of football operations to be over $3 million above the average NRL club."
Mr Tinkler has denied reports that he leaves the club with debts of about $20 million.
"Any figure like this could only include money I have put onto the club. The debts of the club are substantially less than the $10.5 million, which is currently sitting in a bank account and not earning interest," he said.
"Through our investment in junior development, our 20s are on top of the table, the Harold Matthews team won the National Title and SG Ball made it to the finals," he said.
He reflected on his tenure at the Knights, while lashing out at the local press.
"Over the past the years we have also provided every opportunity for the Knights NRL team and coaching staff and I'm sure this will pay off down the line.
"On a personal level, the most inspirational moment of the past three years was last week when I visited Alex McKinnon in hospital and saw what the true Newcastle spirit was all about.
"I want a successful Knights club, which generates pride for the whole Hunter, but 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.
"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 $7 million of debt, inadequate administration facilities and no formal training facility," Mr Tinkler concluded.
The Hunter Sports Group want negotiations to finish quickly and the NRL to support the Knights, if needed, during this transitional period.
The club and Mr Tinkler will make no further comment.