This article was first written for and published by the Roar.
Sport and big business are not identical, but the sooner clubs understand that the NRL is a multi-million dollar industry and they need to run their businesses accordingly, the better our sport will be.
There have been two stories that have emerged out of clubland this week that have been deeply troubling.
The first emerged earlier in the week, before the Newcastle Knights lost to the Sydney Roosters 48-10 on Saturday night.
If reports are to be believed, then the Knights are going to have to make some serious decisions when it comes to their salary cap for 2020.
It started a month ago when Nathan Brown was questioned about the future of Herman Ese’ese. He told the media that Herman was signed to the end of next season and would remain at the club until at least then.
Despite how tight the 2020 cap position is, the club still want to register the contract of Cronulla Sharks hooker Jayden Brailey, but have been told by the NRL that they cannot. The Knights also have no money to retain the services of the likes of Shaun Kenny-Dowall or Hymel Hunt unless another player goes.
For the Knights, it looks like the majority of the cap will be taken up by contract upgrades to players like Kalyn Ponga, Jesse Ramien and Daniel Saifiti, whose deal is due a bump thanks to Origin selection.
The Knights could be OK if they manage to get rid of Tautau Moga and Aidan Guerra, but will be challenged if those two players decide to stay.
My question is how are the Knights in this position?
Newcastle have been selling a rebuild to their fans and members for several years. Their long-suffering supporters have tolerated mediocrity on the field for many years.
This year, the rebuild finally seems to be complete thanks to the exceptional form of players like David Klemmer, Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce.
Imagine if all this is to be challenged yet again because of poor salary cap management in the year that they are set to play finals football for the first time since 2013.
It’s not a good enough result for fans who have bought into a story of a rebuild for it to come crashing down one year after they’ve got it together.
Newcastle aren’t the only club that are facing some challenges off the field.
The Gold Coast Titans have problems of their own. At least their CEO Dennis Watt spoke honestly last week when he admitted that this is the Titans last chance to get things right.
That’s about more than just the results on the field – it involves the crowd and the coach.
Then there’s the Cronulla Sharks.
What a fascinating season they’ve had.
I remember at Round 8, they had $2 million worth of talent sitting in the sidelines including Wade Graham, Matt Moylan and Aaron Woods.
But then in the next couple of rounds, the Sharks were able to jag some wins and were sitting comfortably inside the eight thanks to some strong performances from young players like Briton Nikora, Jack Williams and Bronson Xerri.
The Sharks are now sitting well outside the top eight and are playing average footy.
But that seems to be the least of the club’s challenges at the moment, following the announcement that a new shopping centre is being built on the western side of the ground. As a result, the Sharks will not be able to play at Shark Park for the next two years and will be playing out of Kogarah, Darwin and the Sunshine Coast.
All this and no stadium redevelopment to look forward to? That’ll be hard for their fans to cop.
At least for Parramatta Eels fans, the challenge of ANZ Stadium was made better because of the promise of a brand new Western Sydney Stadium.
Cronulla have faced plenty of challenges off the field over the last decade and it looks like things will get harder before they get easier.
Season 2019 has seen some great footy played on the field, positive media coverage and more people watching than ever before. But the game continues the be plagued by challenges off the field for the clubs.
And I wonder whether some more professional management of these clubs would have helped at some point along the line.
Sport is not big business, but big business may have some lessons for us in how we run our clubs.