Why Bennett rejected Dragons' big-money offer

RUGBY LEAGUE 

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 that 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 up the franchise - along with the Newcastle Jets franchise and 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 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 said.

"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.

"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," he said.

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

The Knights and HSG recently reached a compromise which allows more time for completion of an audit and for the club's $20 million bank loan to be guaranteed.

Tinkler's troubles - coupled with Russell Crowe's decision to sell up at South Sydney - have raised questions over whether private investors will continue to invest in NRL clubs. However, Bennett believes generous benefactors will still be drawn to the game.

"There will always be people who want to make a difference - that was always Nathan's dream here, about what he wanted to put back in," he said.

"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."

His final message to Novacastrians is: "Don't worry, we're fine. I want to assure the fans and let them know that within the Knights, regardless of what else happens, there is no crisis for us."

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