Retiring Newcastle forward Matt Hilder has slammed Nathan Tinkler’s ownership of the club and hailed the decision to re-hire Rick Stone as head coach.
Retiring Newcastle utility Matt Hilder has slammed former Knights owner Nathan Tinkler and said the decision to re-employ Rick Stone as head coach will help rebuild the soul of the club.
Tinkler’s reign at the Knights came to an end earlier this season, ending a difficult three-year tenure in which attendances at Hunter Stadium fell and relations with the city’s newspaper soured with journalists being banned from training sessions by the club.
The average attendance for home fixtures when Tinkler took over in 2012 was 20,619 but that figure fell to 17,616 this year.
Hilder, who will skipper the Knights’ NSW Cup side in Sunday’s premiership final against Penrith, said he was dismayed at the manner Tinkler and his employees tried to change the club when they arrived in 2012.
“People came into the club and had never stepped foot in the town before,” Hilder told AAP.
“All of a sudden they’re telling people who’d been there for 20 years what to do.
“It didn’t sit very well with me. But who was I to say anything?
“It’s not the way it should be done. I appreciate what Nathan was trying to do in winning a premiership, but they should have been looking in their own back yard first.”
The Knights made several big-money signings as Tinkler tried to buy his way to a premiership, overlooking the club’s once fertile junior system.
But despite this and the recruitment of legendary coach Wayne Bennett, the club only made the finals once in three seasons.
Hilder believes this policy didn’t sit well with Knights supporters and blames the billionaire mining magnate for creating a disconnect between the club and the local area.
“Back in the day they were a big producer of the local talent and Stoney is going to bring that back,” he said.
“That’s what the fans up there want to see, people they have known since they were kids growing up to play in the Knights jersey.
“That is what the soul of the club is and it was lost a bit in recent years.
Hilder said Tinkler wanted “too much too soon”.
“But that is the way Nathan goes about his business … he wants everything straight away.
“But that era is behind us. We can build well for the future, pack out that stadium and get back to how it used to be up there.”
Hilder will begin life as a plumber when this season ends with 201 NRL appearances under his belt.
He was helped to prepare for life after football by Bennett who allowed him time off from training to get his qualifications and has nothing but praise for the new Brisbane coach.
“He wants the best for players and genuinely cares about them,” he said.
“He doesn’t bullshit anyone and that is what I liked about him.
“He’s been great to me off the field … I really hope he does well at Brisbane.”