NRL unable to strike a deal to sell Knights

UNFLAGGING SUPPORT: Knights fans at McDonald Jones Stadium. Picture: Max Mason-HubersTHE NRL’s initial attempt to sell the Knights has ended in anti-climax, leaving the governing body to continue running Newcastle’s franchise indefinitely.

The NRL, which has bankrolled theKnightssince the demise of Nathan Tinkler in 2014, launched asales processin September by calling for expressions of interest and appointingTony Garrett, the head of mergers and acquisitions at Deloitte Australia, to broker a deal.

But despite approachesfrom 17 entities, several based overseas, NRL officials were not satisfied any could meet the criteria for sustainable long-term governance.

Two parties remain in contention, but have been told to reconsider their bids and reapply if they can address shortcomings identified by the NRL.

“The NRL are not going to be spooked into a sale,’’ NRL head of club and state services Tony Crawford told theHerald.

“We’re going to hangabout for the right ownership structure for this club.

“The ARL Commission’s position is that we’ve invested heavily in this club, both in terms of time and financially, and a short-cut will hurt us all.

“The Commission’s position is that they’re not prepared to take a short-cut. It’s not a case of finding an owner, it’s a case of finding the right owner.’’

Crawford said the Knights remained “actively for sale” and he was hopeful the two entities still in contention would submit improved business plans for consideration.

He saidexpressions of interest had come from as far afield as America, England, China and Papua New Guinea, but added that the NRL was “disappointed with the level of interest we received locally’’.

“There was substantive interest but we got to a final position where there were two prospective, viable parties,’’ Crawford said.

“But in the fullness of time, we just couldn’t get satisfied that they met our criteria.

“So we’ve asked them to work harder to meet the criteria… we’ll continue to work with them, and they may or may not be successful.

“In the meantime, the league remains committed to Newcastle and will continue to support it financially.

“It’s business as usual for the NRL and the Knights’ board.’’

Crawford said the NRL and Knights management would now draft up a business plan for the club for the next three years– although any privatisation bids would continue to be evaluated.

The NRL had been seeking an estimatedfee of at least $10 million forNewcastle’sfranchise.

Crawford said the NRL’s main concerns about the unsuccessful parties had related to“non-financial” issues.

Asked if Newcastle’s poor on-field performances for the past seasons had been a deterrent, Crawford replied:“Not necessarily.’’

He confirmed that the Wests Group, as expected, had not been among the parties tojoin the tender process.

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