Knights CEO Phil Gardner says junior recruiting bias has cost Newcastle

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Boyd Cordner slipped through the Newcastle Knights recruiter's hands.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Boyd Cordner slipped through the Newcastle Knights recruiter's hands.

Knights CEO Phil Gardner has vowed to end a recruiting bias towards Lakes and Maquarie juniors which has cost the club Aussie players Boyd Cordner, Greg Inglis and Greg Bird in the past.

Gardner said whether it was conscious or unconscious he had observed a recruiting bias towards the Lakes and to an extent Wests juniors which had resulted in talented players from the Coalfields and other Knights nurseries ending at other clubs.

“It’s something I’m very aware of and the club is very aware of and we are going to address,” he said.

“We cannot afford to let another Boyd Corder or Greg Inglis slip through the net and go to another club.

“There are always going to be players who will be picked up by other clubs, but there has been a bias in recruiting which has cost us quality players.”

Others on the list include Taree’s Latrell Mitchell  and even a Lakes junior Josh Jackson.

Maitland juniors Max King, who debuted in first grade at the Gold Coast Titans this year, and 2017 Australian Schoolboy Jesse Cronin, who is being groomed for big things at Parramatta, are among the latest to be let go by the Knights. 

“I would think without being disrespectful to anyone in the last six years or so the Knights haven’t shown enough love to our junior base, particularly to Maitland but also Newcastle,” Gardner said.

“The Maitland junior district is as strong as the Newcastle junior district and it’s really important to the Knights’ future.

“We want to be more engaged at every level with the junior development of the game.

“That will be a journey for us. We want to go up through Group 21 out to Tamworth and Port Macquarie, but everything starts at home and Maitland is our home.

“The Knights need to be fully integrated with the Maitland juniors, we need to be there with them all the time as we do with the Newcastle juniors and our areas in Valentine and the lakes.

“All those area are very important for the future of the game, both as a player pipeline but also the fans getting connected to the actual brand itself.”

Gardner said healthy Coalfields clubs were vital to the future of the Newcastle Rugby League and the Knights.

“There’s an old saying that when the Coalfields are strong, rugby league in the region is strong,” he said. “I think that’s true.

“If we can get the Coalfields back being as strong as they possibly can that’s going to be great for the Knights, great for rugby league, great for the kids.

“The Coalfields are a really important feeder base for the Knights and for rugby league in general.

“That’s something we do want to do is become a development club again. 

“A lot of the clubs have gone away from the development of players and have just become cherry pickers where they allow someone develop players and just come along and make them an offer.

“That’s not really the future of the Knights. We need to be a development club and invest in the development of kids.

“Parramatta and Penrith have wonderful junior nurseries and they are really making them work for them. We want to do the same here.”

Gardner said the development of young sporting talent by the Knights would extend beyond rugby league at the planned centre of excellence.

“We want to ensure that talented young sportspeople get the training they need to be as good as they can be whatever their sport is,” he said.