Off the Wall

The cause of private ownership of NRL clubs has suffered a severe setback today with mining "magnate" Nathan Tinkler abruptly ending his quest to acquire the Newcastle Knights.

The NRL, and all clubs, need to learn from the events of recent weeks at the Knights, culminating in today's turn of events.

The independent commission, in particular, will surely need to have a long and hard look at the process of "privatising" clubs which, in this case, is a mini replica of the recent NSW power sales debacle.

If we are not careful, we are going to face the same problems soccer has had to put up with another mining "magnate" Clive Palmer.

I am not at all surprised Nathan Tinkler has pulled out of discussions to buy the Knights - without notice or apparent reason.

Anyone who follows horse racing would not be surprised either.

The new commission is going to have a lot on its plate - and the financial stability of a number NRL clubs will be one issue. The Sharks are clearly in dire financial straits, and a couple more, including the Knights, are not in good shape either.

What the commission must not do is regard the fire sale of clubs to "magnates" who arrive on the scene as an easy option - let alone a sensible one.

The Knights have learnt that the hard way. Weeks of precious time signing sponsors, and financial backers, has been lost. And the blame game will now erode its position even further.

And the club's credibility has taken a hammering - and the reputation of a seemingly decent and genuine young player from another club has been trashed in the daily press in the process.

As I wrote recently, the game must preserve a "balance" when it comes to private ownership and member ownership. We upset that balance at the games long term peril.

The Tinkler-Knights debacle ought to make the NRL, and the new commission, even more wary than it should already be when it comes to the "fire sale" of a member club to a private owner.

The experience of the "privatisation" of clubs has been a mixed one. The Broncos and the Titans have been success stories. The Melbourne Storm remains privately owned - but will have to be propped up by an extraordinarily generous $8 million a year handout that is a condition of News Limited exiting its share in the ownership of the game.

I have a genuine fear that the financial problems facing NRL clubs are going to be massively compounded in the next couple of years when the Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, seeks to enforce his federal parliament "balance of power" influence to impose controls on poker machines that will go through the club industry like a wrecking ball.

That is another issue the commission will have to address.

It is not a good look with the start of the season now less than three weeks away for at least two clubs to be facing dire financial circumstances.

And the worry is that finding a solution to the problems facing the Knights and the Sharks won't be matter how "powerful" the independent commission is!