Quick sale of Knights unlikely: NRL

NRL STALLS ON SALE: Newcastle Knights.NRL officials are unlikely to consider selling the Knights for at least 12 months, despite mounting pressure from English billionaire Marwan Koukash to buy the franchise.
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Koukash, the self-made tycoon who owns English Super League outfit Salford and hundreds of racehorses, was quoted overnight as saying he planned to fly to Australia next month to finalise his takeover of an NRL club.

‘‘I’m looking at three clubs,’’ Koukash told PA.

‘‘There were two, but in the last week or so another opportunity has arisen.

‘‘There are a lot of opportunities for me to get involved with a number of NRL clubs, and the amount of investment that is needed is minute compared to what I’m putting in at Salford.’’

Koukash first expressed interest more than two months ago in privatising the Knights, who have been under NRL ownership since the ousting of Nathan Tinkler in mid-June after a controversial three-year tenure.

But an NRL spokesman said yesterday that the governing body had held ‘‘only very preliminary discussions’’ with Koukash and ‘‘there is no prospect of any sale of the Newcastle Knights at this stage’’.

“Im looking at three clubs”: Marwan Koukash who has expressed interest in buying the Knights.

It is understood NRL chief executive Dave Smith is content to wait for at least a year before putting the Knights on the market, to ensure the club is stable from a financial and administrative viewpoint.

The first step in that process will be the appointment of a seven-person board of directors, which is expected to be finalised by the end of October.

Two of those directors will be NRL representatives, one ‘‘community representative’’ will be nominated by the Knights members club and four will be independents, selected by a recruitment agency and approved by the NRL. At least one of the directors will be a woman.

When the club is eventually sold, it will be to an owner who is willing to accept having only two ‘‘stakeholder’’ seats on the seven-person board and hence possibly being outvoted on key issues.

While Koukash has said several times that he would like to buy the Knights, NRL adviser John Quayle was dismissive of that prospect in mid-July, saying: ‘‘Here it is again, someone who puts his hand up. Tell him to go to the league [NRL] and give them a non-refundable cheque of $100million. Then the league might talk to him.’’

Quayle, who has been serving on Newcastle’s interim board, told the Newcastle Herald two weeks ago that the Wests Group was the NRL’s ‘‘preferred option’’.

‘‘The success of the Knights hinges on having the involvement of a very good business partner,’’ Quayle said.

‘‘We certainly believe that Wests is that partner.’’

Koukash, a former Palestinian refugee, is estimated to have spent up to $7million on Salford since rescuing the Red Devils from financial ruin 20 months ago.

The outspoken businessman said he could see synergies in owning rugby league clubs in two hemispheres.

‘‘It has to be the right deal for me personally and for the club over there, and it has to have the kind of partnership I would like between the NRL and Salford,’’ he said.

‘‘There will be sharing of players and coaching ideas, and it will make my recruitment in the future a lot easier for Salford.

‘‘For example, one thing I could offer a player considering coming to Salford is a one year’s development in the NRL, and there might be players there who could benefit from coming over here.’’

As well as Newcastle, Koukash has been linked to two other financially embattled NRL clubs, Gold Coast and St George Illawarra.

Koukash said he and his wife, Mandy, who failed in an attempt to buy Bradford this year, were keen to spend more time in Australia.