Tinkler woes spell trouble for Wayne Bennett

TROUBLE: Wayne Bennett's million dollar a year contract could be in jeopardy.
TROUBLE: Wayne Bennett's million dollar a year contract could be in jeopardy.

Wayne Bennett's future at Newcastle would be placed in jeopardy should Nathan Tinkler lose control of the Knights.

Just one season into a four-year deal with the Knights, Bennett's future has suddenly become an unknown quantity, with Tinkler's sporting empire in danger of collapsing.

Following the Australian Taxation Office's move to wind up the Newcastle Knights and the Newcastle Jets, along with their parent company the Hunter Sports Group, over unpaid debts of some $2.7 million, the NRL has demanded that a club grant of more than half a million dollars due at the end of December is used to ensure player superannuation payments are up to date.

For now, Tinkler is hanging on to his prized sporting possessions. A statement from HSG said the company had been ''surprised'' by the development, ''as we have not received notification of this move''. ''We advise that any outstanding sum will be paid as soon as possible - well before the reported hearing date on the matter next February,'' the statement said.

The Tax Office's move came just days after HSG and the Knights Members Club - who would take over in the event of Tinkler ceding control - reached a compromise agreement which allowed HSG more time to complete an audit and to extend the club's $20 million bank guarantee.

Should Tinkler ultimately lose control of the Knights, Bennett's future would be clouded. It was Tinkler's millions which convinced the coach to join him at the Knights, but should Tinkler not be there, someone else's millions might be needed to ensure Bennett stays.

Bennett is employed by HSG on a contract worth more than $1 million a season, which would be placed in doubt in the event of Tinkler losing control. While Bennett would almost certainly coach the Knights next season even with Tinkler not at the helm, the final two seasons of his contract would be clouded. It would be up to the Knights Members Club to decide whether it can continue employing a million-dollar-a-season coach.

The NRL initially maintained the administration was monitoring developments at Newcastle, having been assured of the club's financial stability. But late on Thursday, the NRL sent a strongly-worded message to HSG asking that the next grant payment of $583,333 be used to ensure that all player superannuation payments were current before being put to any other use.

''Hunter Sports Group continues to assure us that the club is in a sound position,'' the NRL's interim chief executive, Shane Mattiske, said.

''There are also clear safeguards agreed by Nathan Tinkler and the Knights at the time of the sale of the club that remain in place. These include a significant bank guarantee. It is important in the meantime that we ensure all commitments are met to players and staff and we are simply ensuring through the payment of the grant that these are a priority.''

The FFA has been given assurances that the Jets' operations ''will not be affected''. The Jets are in Perth preparing for Friday's Round 11 A-League match against Perth Glory.

Documents filed on Wednesday in the Federal Court in Sydney show the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation is applying for the wind-up of HSG (owing $184,258), Newcastle Jets Football Operations Pty Ltd (owing $1.063 million) and Newcastle Knights Pty Ltd (owing $1.424 million).

HSG is also being sued by the NSW government over $600,000 in unpaid stadium rent.

Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said in a video statement the club was ''looking forward to regrouping after the Christmas break and looking forward to a positive 2013 on and off the field''.

Jets counterpart Robbie Middleby echoed similar sentiments. ''Our main concern ... is to ensure the Newcastle Jets have a successful 2012-13 season''.

Sydney Morning Herald