"You're bloody joking, who'd you pay?" That was Leigh Maughan's reaction when he learned he was receiving an Australia Day honour for his service to rugby league.
The founding father of the Newcastle Knights, longtime board member of the club and advocate for the game in the Hunter has been recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
"I just wanted to get Newcastle up to a standard of rugby league to have somewhere for the kids to follow on," he told the Newcastle Herald.
"I wanted to see Newcastle get their fair shake of what was going on.
"The community backed me all the way."
Born and raised in Newcastle, Maughan spent time running a successful Woolworths supermarket before entering the real estate game and then moving on to a career as a rugby league commentator for the Newcastle competition - first on radio station 2NX, then on NBN television.
He had played representative football as a teenager and later became a referee, touch judge and Newcastle Rugby League board member multiple times.
But it was his decade-long campaign, along with fellow local business identities Michael Hill and Gerry Edser, for a Newcastle team to enter the elite Sydney competition that firmly pressed Maughan's name into the Australian rugby league history books.
He became the Newcastle Knights' number one ticket holder when they joined the then NSWRL competition in 1988 and sat on the club's board from 1987 to 1999 and again from 2008 until 2015 - he is also a Knights life member.
Now, Maughan says there needs to be an effort to continue nurturing rugby league talent in Coalfields towns like Kurri Kurri, Cessnock, Maitland and up the valley.
When asked how he thinks the Knights will go in the NRL competition this year, he said he liked the prospect of the club's new head coach Adam O'Brien.
"We need to go better, we've got the size and we've got the ability," he said.
"We need to get our standards up and keep them up there."
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