Newcastle Knights will effectively be closed for business within days with more than 100 full-time and part-time players and staff stood down in the wake of the indefinite suspension of the NRL premiership.
But CEO Phil Gardner reaffirmed the club's future, predicting the Knights will be back "bigger and better than ever" as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is under control and the competition kicks off again. But there will be some pain to endure before that.
Club officials and coach Adam O'Brien will meet face-to-face with the playing group on Wednesday to bring them up to speed with the latest developments. The prospect of pay cuts and how savage they will be, currently being discussed by the NRL and the RLPA [players' union], is sure to be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, all Knights employees including head coach Adam O'Brien and his football staff have been stood down. They have been paid up until the end of this month with more than 50 full-time employees told to take annual leave and any other entitlements immediately. Those without entitlements will be on leave without pay, potentially for the next six months.
"It's pretty devastating and extremely tough times for everyone at the club," director of football Danny Buderus said. "But we are in this together and will be here for each other."
Gardner said the cost-cutting would be across the board and no-one would be exempt including the players.
Asked about the Knights future post pandemic, he told the Newcastle Herald: "I'm confident we will be able to take the necessary steps to come out the other end of this bigger and better than ever."
That prediction comes despite the huge financial hit that Knights owner Wests Group is anticipating from the closure of its licensed club empire in Newcastle and Port Stephens. More than 1000 staff have had to be stood down over the past few days.
It's understood that combined, the club's turnover is around $15 million a month in revenue which equates to a massive $90 million over six months if the lockdowns are maintained for that length of time. But with more than $200 million in assets, Wests Group is better-placed than most to ride out the financial storm.
Gardner said guaranteed funding from the NRL for the next six months would be a huge help to the Knights.
"Every club will be undergoing a cost-cutting exercise at this time and we've complied with the requirements of the NRL [in that regard]," he said.
"All our staff have been stood down but the good news for everyone involved in rugby league is that funding will continue for the game which will keep the game afloat for the next six months.
"There are plans being made about if and when the comp will continue, what that will look like and how it will all work. We are talking to the players tomorrow [Wednesday] on what all that means. The reality for the game is that everybody will be taking a hair cut. But people haven't been terminated, they have been stood down."
It's understood the Knights, along with the other 15 clubs, normally receive around $1.3 million a month in funding from the NRL. But at this stage, just what level of support will be forthcoming over the next six months if there is no return to playing is unclear.
Gardner, who praised the Knights sponsors for sticking by the club in such difficult times, said members and season ticket-holders will be looked after in the long run.
"We are hoping we can get the game back up and running," he said. "If we can get the game back up and running, at whatever time, then we can look after everyone in that process.
"So we are asking for patience to work with us and the response from our fans and members has been incredible. They are saying to us 'hold onto our money, do the best you can, keep us informed and come back to us'. I can assure you we won't forget the people who have been helping us."
Coach O'Brien said it was the perfect time for the resilience of the club, something he has been preaching heavily during the pre-season, to come to the fore.
"I'm disappointed but optimistic we can get on top of this thing, get rid of it and get back to normal," he said.
"There are people doing it a whole lot worse than me. We have spoken all pre-season about being a resilient footy team and now this is our turn to do it. We themed up our pre-season on the drought and that was a pretty long suspension that the farmers had to endure and now it's our turn.
"We just have to get on with it. Ultimately we need to stick together, get rid of this thing and get life back to normal."
O'Brien said there is still uncertainty around when and how the players would be allowed to continue training with clarification expected from the NRL later this week.
"I'd anticipate some small group stuff but they are professional our guys," he said.
"If they have to do it on their own, they'll do it on their own. They understand they have put themselves in a reasonable position and they want to hang onto that.
"It comes down to discipline and making sure you are looking after yourself and your family and when things get back to normal, they are in a good position to hit the ground running."
O'Brien could not have hoped for a better start to the season after notching consecutive wins.
SIGN UP TODAY: For the best coverage of sport in Newcastle and the Hunter, subscribe to the newcastleherald.com.au/lovesport for unlimited digital access
- COVID-19 update: Confirmed cases keep rising in Hunter
- The coronavirus crisis in Newcastle and the Hunter
- Emergency services and healthcare workers hour to start at Coles
- Port Stephens council meeting cancelled, Newcastle's to go ahead
- A-League: Border restrictions put A-League on hold but FFA hope to complete season