DESPITE the highly publicised problems this year with the Newcastle Knights, the team's owners, Wests Group, have built a very strong track record when it comes to the rest of their operations.
Led by chief executive Phil Gardner and a board that includes former Lake Macquarie mayor Owen Kilpatrick as a longtime director and president, Wests appear to have found a recipe for success that has eluded many other registered clubs, which found themselves under the twin pressures of an ageing membership and the revenue losses that followed the extension of poker machines into hotels, ending the club industry's long-term monopoly on this form of gambling.
As well as its home club opposite Harker Oval at New Lambton, Wests now have another six premises in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens bearing the name, and Mr Gardner says the club is interested in footholds on the Central Coast and mid-north coast regions.
At the same time, Wests are eyeing a move into the seniors and aged care markets, with plans for high-rise aged care and over 55s developments at Wests City and Wests Mayfield.
The King Street, Newcastle, club has endured some hard times since the tragedy of the 1989 earthquake, and various plans to develop the largely vacant area next to the rebuilt premises have come and gone.
Under this latest plan, Mr Gardner says the club is seeking development approval for a pair of 15-storey towers - one as a conventional apartment block, the other containing a mixture of over-55s units and "high care" nursing beds.
The Mayfield proposal is for a seven-storey aged-care facility fronting Industrial Drive, with a cluster of four-to-nine storey seniors' apartments on the training oval behind the club and its adjacent Gateway Inn.
At this stage, Wests have made no decisions as to who would manage the aged-care side of the projects, or even whether Wests would retain ownership of the sites long-term.
Mr Gardner says the club has succeeded the way that it has by sticking to what it knows best, and it would seek an experienced health-care operator - and a "tier one" builder - if it proceeds with the plans once the projects are approved.
Given the problems in both aged care and high-rise construction, Wests will need to tread carefully to ensure its success continues.