An early artist’s rendering of what a redeveloped Hunter Stadium could look like.THE Newcastle Knightswill climb from “the portaloo to the penthouse” after the state government on Tuesday confirmed funding towards a $20 million centre of excellence at Broadmeadow.
Minister for Sport Stuart Ayres announced a $10 million grant to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Wests Group as part of a deal struck with the NRL when the organisation took ownership of the Knights in July.
Construction of the state-of-the-art facility, which will be the home base for the entire club,is expected to start in the middle of next year and be completed by November 2019.
“Finally we are going to have a centre of excellence that the entire community will be proud of,” Wests and Knights chief executive Phil Gardner said.
“I don’t think we can overstate how important it is to the region. It is a huge commitment from the Wests Group and a legacy for the town. We don’t think there is a better place for us to invest money.”
The facility, one of five NSW rugby league training centres to receive funding, will include administration offices, a high-performance gym and training area, medical rooms, sports science division,Knights museum and four full-sized playing fields.
“We want to partner with the university around their sports science department, not just for rugby league players but across all elite athletes,” Gardner said.
“It will have a medical facility to cater for our sport and other sports.We are looking at a Knights museum as part of it.It will be a true community facility, a catalyst for the precinct and a great result for rugby league.”
The Knights have lived a pauper’s existence for much of their 30 years.
The club trained on council grounds andused portaloos and shipping containers as change rooms before moving into their current base at Wests Mayfield.
“We have gone from the portalooto the penthouse,” Gardner said.
“At present the club is across a number of venues:the university, Wests Mayfield, Newcastle TAFE and some schools.Everyone will now be at the one place.
“Our goal is to make this the best rugby league centre of excellence.”
Knights coach Nathan Brown said the centre would be play a major role in attracting players to the club as well asdeveloping and retaining local talent.
“These facilities will certainlyhelp local juniors play rugby league and accelerate their development in such a great environment,” Brown said.
The centre of excellence had been earmarked for the site of the Newcastle International Paceway, butGardner said a more likely location was on land at the southern end of McDonald Jones Stadium.
“We have to have that negotiation with Venues NSW,” Gardner said.
“We are looking for four fields at the precinct and will have to juggle that with other users of the facilities.
“We will sit down with Venues NSW and identify the spot which will determine the size and shape of the COEand where the sporting fields will go.
“We want to be going into the 2020 pre-season in thefacility. We will be pragmatic working withVenues NSW on where it is positioned and how it is going to work.”
The centre will be partofa major redevelopmentofBroadmeadow’s District Park as a sporting precinct.
“This will be a major step in bring the precinct up to city class,” Gardner said.
Newcastle were one of five clubs to receive funds for the building, alongside Canterbury, South Sydney, Cronulla and the Roosters.
Newcastle’s $10 million is the largest allocation, outstripping the Rabbitohs’ $8.69 million.