The Roar
The Roar


Will Phil Gardner's tactical nuclear strike keep the Knights in line?

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12th January, 2019
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The deputy headmaster at my high school was the disciplinarian. If you mucked up, the ultimate threat was being sent to Brother Anthony’s office.

With his booming baritone, down-to-earth vocabulary and unparalleled command of the pause, you could hear a pin drop when he addressed the school.

And when he was on the warpath, he had an uncanny way of making you feel like he was singling you out as the target of his wrath in a sea of students. ​

Years later, my Dad explained to me the genius of Brother Anthony’s rampages (my apologies, Brother, if this is revealing the proverbial magician’s trick to any of your current students).​

The key was to go absolutely ballistic over something small – say, graffiti on classroom desks.​

It was an affront to the school; showed a complete lack of respect. The people who did it were an embarrassment to their form, their family and themselves. Graffiti was a pathetic way for someone to try leave their mark on this hallowed institution of learning.​


Woe betide the boys foolish enough to have committed this low, disgusting act. There would be hell to pay.​

I would cower in my seat – I’d probably spilled some white-out on a desk at some stage during the school year, what if he was talking about me?​

And that was the intent. He knew the chances of catching the desk ‘artists’ were negligible. What’s more, he probably wasn’t really that bothered by the ink – cleaning it off was a common enough punishment in detention.​

No, Brother Anthony was sending a message: If I’m this pissed off over a few pen marks, imagine how I’m going to react if you do something really bad.​

The issue, of course, is that there wasn’t really much left in the tank. Detention, suspension, expulsion – that’s pretty much all he had in his arsenal, and the latter two were never going to apply for someone who scrawled ‘Joe was here’ on a desk.​

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And the boys who were regularly sent to his office knew as much. But his performances weren’t for them. ​

He lost it for the sake of us boys who were on the straight and narrow – he knew a semi-regular tactical nuclear strike would keep us there.​

This week, the Newcastle Knights got the ‘graffiti’ treatment, as Jacob Saifiti was fined a whopping $50,000 – 25 per cent of his annual salary – for an off-field incident.​

“We think the penalty warrants the behaviour we are trying to put a stop to,” Knights CEO Phil Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.​

So what was “the behaviour we are trying to put a stop to”? ​

In the early hours of Sunday, December 2, Saifiti got into an altercation outside the Greenroof Hotel in Hamilton, copped a punch, fell awkwardly, and broke his leg.​


He was swiftly cleared by police of any wrongdoing, while another man was arrested and charged with reckless grievous bodily harm.​

Upon the news of said other man being arrested, the Knights released a statement which read, in part: “Saifiti has been exonerated by the police investigation from any culpability following an incident outside the Greenroof Hotel last week.​

“Saifiti attempted to defuse a situation involving other innocent bystanders, which led to his assault and charges have been laid.”​

So the young prop tries to settle a situation down – and, by the way the media release is worded, is a valiant hero to “innocent bystanders” – and he loses a quarter of his yearly paycheque for his efforts?​

Obviously there was more to it than that, with Gardner Herald saying of the situation, “… Regardless of the rights or wrongs, it has brought the game and the club into a level of disrepute… ​

“Culturally, it’s just not acceptable to put yourself in that situation fullstop.”​

Still, it’s pretty clear that Saifiti has been made an example of – one which should have every other player wondering, “If Phil’s this pissed off over J-Saf having a beer and getting punched, imagine how he’s going to react if I do something really bad.”​

It’s a strong line to draw in the sand, with Gardner saying that a 25 per cent wage fine would be the new benchmark for off-field misbehaviour, and “to go above that, you are looking at suspensions or terminations”.​


Sadly, days later, an alleged incident that does “go above that” was brought to light, as centre Tautau Moga was charged with assault.

“We have been notified of an incident and we expect the player to be charged if he hasn’t already been,” Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.

“We won’t take any direct action against the player until that plays out. My understanding is he slapped a taxi driver.

“If he pleads guilty, then we will deal with it under our new behaviour policy.”

Under the Saifiti standard, this would surely mean Moga is sent packing – and the Herald reported that “Gardner would not rule out the possibility that Moga could be sacked by the club.”

Strong talk from the Knights boss. And about time too, because the Knights have a history in this town of drinking a skinful and acting like they own the joint (although, it should be said, the change in this has been noticeable since Wests took over). ​

But the cynic in me still wonders what head office would have said if it had been a high-profile player – Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga or David Klemmer, for example – under the microscope.​

Reckon the Knights would garnish their yearly wage to the tune of 25 per cent or give them the boot?


Phil Gardner’s done a great job setting a standard and I applaud him for it. But while going nuclear keeps the majority on the straight and narrow – meaning you avoid plenty of potential problems – it also leaves you with very little wiggle room the next time something like this inevitably occurs.