Knights CEO Phil Gardner says he holds no fears of losing marquee fullback Kalyn Ponga to a new Brisbane franchise in 2023 as the NRL inches closer to announcing details of an expansion of the competition.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys will meet with the existing 16 clubs tomorrow to discuss the latest expansion developments with reports indicating he will table a beefed-up broadcasting deal from Foxtell that could be worth an additional $100 million over five years if a new 17-team competition is rubber-stamped.
There are suggestions an official announcement about a new 17th club could be made by the end of this month with the Redcliffe Dolphins a firm favourite to be given the nod.
Gardner says the Knights will have no problem backing the expansion proposal provided the club won't be worse off in the hip pocket.
"As long as it's financially beneficial for all the clubs, I can't see why anyone would say no," Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
"The general response from everyone about the issue has been 'show us the money'. We haven't seen the proposal yet but if we are going to be better off, there is no question it will be a good thing for the game and a good thing for everyone. It's hard to see it getting knocked back if that's the case."
Gardner has no doubts a new club coming in and starting from scratch will inflate the player market but he is not convinced the high-end marquee stars will be the chief beneficiaries.
And he says he is not losing sleep over the potential threat of a Wayne Bennett-coached Redcliffe side poaching Ponga in 2023 or 2024 even though the Knights fullback can potentially become a free agent because of contract options in his favour for those two seasons.
"Absolutely the player market will inflate because you are putting another $10 million out there into the marketplace for players," he said.
"But what I believe it will do is rather than inflate the price of the marquee players at the top which is what's being reported, the inflation will be around those players in the middle.
"The players currently getting paid $200,000 will be a big chance of potentially getting $350,000 or $400,000. Or a player on $350,000 will be a chance of getting $500k - they will be the real winners I believe. That's where I believe the competition will be.
"It won't be around the marquee players already earning the top dollar because those guys at the very top, I don't believe there will be a capacity to pay them any more because it prevents you from building a competitive squad with depth if you do."
Ponga will earn in excess of $1 million a season for the next three years at the Knights so presumably, it will take a massive offer to prise him out of the club at the end of next season.
But the fact the star fullback has consistently, over a long period of time, said that he wants to win a premiership and win it in Newcastle is why Knights officials are confident he is in no hurry to leave the club to join a rival.
"As far as I am concerned, he is here until the end of 2024 and he'll be with us until at least then," Gardner said.
"People are going to keep asking me about KP and I'll keep saying the same thing. I'm not losing an ounce of sleep over it. I'm not concerned at all.
"At this stage of his career, he wants to win a premiership. He's told us that. That's his motivation and he says he wants to do that in Newcastle. He's been consistent about that.
"Now, in my view, you are not going to a brand new club, who is starting from scratch, to win a premiership in the short term.
"We are a club on the rise who has taken some big strides over the past two seasons and we have big aspirations. KP is obviously a big part of those plans."
Gardner indicated the potential for further expansion down the track will be the NRL's next move.
"Like I said, we'll be 100 percent behind expansion if it benefits the game and I would support another side in New Zealand as well which I think is the obvious place we should go to bring it up to 18 teams in the future," he said.