Bennett vows to tough it out with Tinkler

ADRIAN PROSZENKO
Last updated 12:02 15/12/2012
Wayne Bennett and Nathan Tinkler
DARREN PATEMAN/Fairfax Australia

STANDING FIRM: Wayne Bennett (left) says he came to Newcastle because he shares Nathan Tinkler's vision for the club.

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Wayne Bennett has revealed he took a pay cut to shift from the Dragons to the Knights, such was his belief in Nathan Tinkler's vision for Newcastle.

Bennett moved to allay fears he wouldn't see out his four-year deal with the club, even if Tinkler's cash crisis forces the embattled owner to relinquish control of the club.

The long-term future of the Knights is clouded after the Australian Tax Office moved to wind it up along with the Newcastle Jets franchise, as well as parent company Hunter Sports Group, over unpaid debts of $2.7 million.

In a strong show of support for Tinkler, the seven-time premiership-winning coach said that he knocked back an even bigger offer to remain with St George Illawarra.

''I can only speak to you about how I've found him. He's the reason I came here,'' Bennett told Fairfax Media. ''I've never publicly spoken about my contract but the bottom line was that I had a better offer from St George to stay there than I got to come here.

''It was never about the money for me, wherever I coached I would have got well paid. It wasn't a money issue in any shape, I believed in what he believed in. He was prepared to put his money and his reputation to all of that. I wanted to back him doing that and that hasn't changed for me.''

Bennett, the first NRL coach to command a seven-figure salary, said the latest dramas had only steeled his resolve to remain in the Hunter.

''I haven't even blinked on that one,'' Bennett said.

''Even if it is the worst-case scenario here - which we're not going to have - it would be all the more reason why I couldn't leave the place.

''It's a great group of guys to work with here and I couldn't walk out on them when they need you most.

''Nathan's not going anywhere so I'm not speculating on anybody else.

''My commitment is stable here and I won't be walking away, particularly when it gets tough.''

Bennett said that he had received all of his promised contract money to date and that, to the best of his knowledge, the players had as well.

''Not one player has come up and said, 'Coach, I haven't gotten this, can you check up and see what's going on','' Bennett said.

''I'd say it's had about 1 per cent [affect] on the players.

''It's a lucky time for us in that we're not playing at the moment. The drama will be sorted out and it will be sorted out before the season starts. We'll be able to concentrate on football.''

Bennett was much sought after when he came on to the open market after three years, including a premiership, with the Dragons. Despite the latest dramas, he has no regrets.

''I don't have any regrets about going to Newcastle, I made a very deliberate decision, I came here for a reason,'' Bennett said.

''I have great faith in the place, great faith in Nathan, and that hasn't changed. It's a little bit wobbly, he's obviously under a fair bit of pressure with other parts of his business at the moment. I'm confident he'll come through and all the things we talked about, we're delivering on some of those now.

''It's just a matter of riding out the rough weather.''

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The Knights and HSG recently reached a compromise which allows more time to complete an audit and extend the club's $20 million bank guarantee. Tinkler's troubles, coupled with Russell Crowe's decision to sell up at South Sydney, has raised questions over whether private investors will continue to invest their money into NRL clubs. However, Bennett believes generous benefactors will continue to be drawn to the game.

''There will always be people who want to make a difference,'' he said.

''That was always Nathan's dream here, about what he wanted to put back in. There's a fair bit of mud being thrown but no one is talking about the great things he's done for this region and his support of sport.

''There would be no Jets without Nathan. The Knights were diabolical [financially] for almost 25 years here. There's now a club sitting here with a $20 million bank guarantee and facilities that were never here before because of Nathan Tinkler.

''He's made a difference and for the right reasons.''

Bennett last spoke to Tinkler about a month ago, opting not to trouble him following the latest developments. However, in their previous conversation Tinkler made it clear he would fight to save his crumbling empire, including his sporting interests.

Asked his message to Novocastrians, Bennett said: ''Don't worry, we're fine. I want to assure the fans and let them know that within the Knights ... there is no crisis for us.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

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