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Knights CEO pays NRLW mentor Griffiths the ultimate compliment

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Newcastle Knights CEO Philip Gardner has paid Ronald Griffiths the ultimate compliment, comparing him to the legendary Wayne Bennett.

The unassuming mentor, who served a lengthy coaching apprenticeship with local organisations Kurri Kurri, Maitland and Greta Branxton before linking up with Michael Maguire at the Wests Tigers, guided the club’s NRLW side to its maiden Telstra Women’s Premiership at the weekend in his first major campaign.

The Knights jumped from wooden spooners to champions in the space of a few months, a fact not lost on the Newcastle boss.

The Newcastle Knights after Sunday’s NRLW victory. Photo: nrl.com

“Ronnie reminds me a little bit of Wayne,” Gardner said.

“Not on results, as he’s only just beginning his journey, but he’s got a very similar sort of style.

“When Wayne was here, he could get the best out of players.

“And, Ronnie’s accomplished that with the girls.

“He’s done a great job.

“We’re thrilled we got him back from the Tigers.

“Ronnie’s a proud First Nations (Gommeroi) man, who instilled pride into the team.

“He’s also assisted both the NRL women’s and men’s Indigenous All-Stars in the past.

“So, he sees himself as a future head coach.

The civic reception at Newcastle’s City Hall on Tuesday. Photo: Rod Thompson

“And, I see him as a future head coach.

“To come back ‘home’ and take on the women’s program, I think it showed a lot of courage from him.

“Ronnie pushed his ego to the side – and a lot of guys wouldn’t have done that.

“It was good for him from a profile perspective.

“And, it was great to have his own team.

“It’s been a really good combination between Millie Boyle, Tamika Upton, Southwell sisters and Ronnie, who’s a terrific motivator.”

Newcastle hammered the Eels 32-12 at Sydney’s Accor Stadium, with the players receiving a hero’s welcome on Sunday night.

The celebrations continued through on Tuesday evening when Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes handed co-captains Boyle and Hannah Southwell – and the rest of the squad (Upton, Kiana Takairangi, Shanice Parker, Bobbi Law, Emmanita Paki, Kirra Dibb, Jesse Southwell, Caitlan Johnston, Olivia Higgins, Romy Teitzel, Yasmin Clydsdale, Kayla Romaniuk, Emma Manzelmann, Tayla Predebon, Simone Karpani, Makenzie Weale, Caitlin Moran, Kyra Simon, Tiana Davison, Jessica Gentle and Tamsin Barber) – the Key to the City.

That acknowledgement – and reception – put a smile on Gardner’s face, too.

“It’s fantastic, it harks back to 1997 for mind,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Look at what the club’s been built on – toughness, community spirit and winning grand finals.

“I think this win from the girls will also build a great culture in the NRLW program for us.

“In a broader sense, it also reinforces the ethos of the organisation as a whole – and what it means to the town.

“Every young man watching this will want to be part of grand final day as well.

“I believe the girls have certainly rekindled that real fire among everyone playing rugby league for the Knights.

“Everyone feels like this is ‘their’ team in the Hunter Valley, with members from Scone, Muswellbrook and surrounding areas.

“And, that’s wonderful moving forward.”

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