Scarface: A Novocastrian Tale

Filed in Other by on December 11, 2010

Newcastle is a town of disparity. Parts as pretty as small coastal town, contrastingly bordered by stretched golden and blue beaches and the furnaces of long engrained heavy industry and the ever-dull modern landscape of suburbia, Newcastle is as much contradiction as any city in Australia. The town clings heartily to its working class roots where even the wealthy Tom Buchanan types vote for the old union candidate in ALP colours yet modern technology are rendering heavy industry and unionism obsolete. It is a place of sun and surf yet grind and struggle. And aside from the deep seated union roots, there is only one thing that holds the town together: rugby league.

Rugby league and a deep and abiding affection for the Knights is a hallmark characteristic of the Newcastle identity, an identity Novocastrians seem inordinately proud of. Newcastle embraces its stars and its team like few other districts. Few things mean as much to Newcastle as the Knights and the likes of the Johns boys, Paul Harragon, Robbie O’Davis and Danny Burderus are revered as deities in the Hunter.

The veneration for the Knights only needs to be highlighted to show how integral the team is to the town and how someone like Danny Wicks may not only have torn the heart out of the club but the entire city. Danny Wicks gets charged with drug trafficking at any other club and the ramifications are obviously large. He gets charged as a Newcastle Knight and the prospect of the fabric of the city being torn apart is very real.

Just before Christmas last year, Knights prop Danny Wicks was arrested and now faces eight charges of drug trafficking and possession. He is alleged to be “the kingpin in a drugs distribution network” operating in Newcastle and Grafton. Police reportedly have months of telephone intercepts as evidence against Wicks. Wicks was arrested in a dawn raid that saw three others nicked and charged including his younger brother. Wicks spent a night in a Newcastle prison after being unable to post $30,000 bail with an $80,000 surety. He posted the next day but was warned not to contact any of the others alleged to be involved in drug ring or his former flatmate, Knights backrower Chris Houston. He quit the Knights and his exorbitant $200,000 a year deal that still had three seasons to run. He now awaits his day in court.

While it is fairly unsurprising that Danny Wicks would get mixed up in something so obviously selfish and greedy, it is tough to imagine Danny Wicks as a Tony Montana style drug kingpin. Perhaps if you close your eyes just enough and the breeze is just right and the only drink in your hand is an Old Cuban…

Danny Wicks, unshaven in a white three-piece suit and a blood red open-necked shirt, with three buttons undone, a half-smoked cigar the centrepiece of his mysterious face, had some business to take care of. Training could wait. He had been sitting in his oversized living room spa, overlooking Newcastle and watching the morning news before the phone call came. He jumped into his Porsche 928, purchased to impress a girl, picked up his associate, whom he met at a high stakes poker game and went to cut a deal. Wicks was a self-made man who had risen through the ranks of the North Coast drug scene through violence, ruthlessness and sheer audacity. Nobody would suspect a first grade footballer, the one with the larrikin personality and the cheeky grin, was The Big Dog. Wicks had no fear. He partied with the most beautiful women, drank with Newcastle’s wealthiest, consumed with the most famous. And anyone who betrayed him met with The Fateful Hand of Vengeance. Wicks and his partner met with The Skull and Frankie Four Eyes and got what they needed. When trouble started, Wicks ended it. For good. Wicks was living the good life…the money flowed, the girls were plentiful and after a while, not too many people wanted to mess with the man known as Mr. Wicks. His world quickly came crashing down though. The corrupt cops he had paid off for protection had turned and ratted. Wicks was now a target. And it wouldn’t be long before the long arm of the law caught up with him. On that fateful morning when the sirens blared and the gig was up, Danny wasn’t prepared to go quietly. He had worked too hard. He had too much. “The world is yours”, he thought. As he pulled his car over on that lonely drive, he reached down and grabbed his gun. “Say hello to my little friend…”

Maybe. Maybe not.

Now obviously Danny Wicks, at this stage, is an innocent man. He will go to trial in February, evidence will be presented and witnesses will testify and Danny Wicks will be declared either guilty or not guilty.

At this stage, however, things are not looking good for the man known as Wixee. Worse, for the Newcastle Knights, this could gut the club and consign them to the end of the ladder affectionately known as the Bunny End for the next half-decade. The implications for the Knights range from obvious distraction to complete annihilation.

Chris Houston, a senior member of the Knights who captained the club in 2009, lives with Wicks and has been named by police as a witness. Houston isn’t suspected or accused of any wrongdoing but it is hardly the ideal preparation to have your house raided by police, knowing your flatmate and friend is accused of being a major drug supplier. Houston is arguably the club’s best forward and any downturn in his form would hurt the Knights significantly in go-forward, defensive workload and leadership. With the trial expected to continue throughout the season, Houston has unwittingly been thrown into the centre of a giant clusterfuck that is sure to hurt the Knights in some way. Jarryd Hayne turned in an awful year after being shot at during the pre-season. For a player like Chris Houston, a drugs trial where he is a key witness and will presumably be used to testify against a friend and former teammate will undoubtedly be a major distraction.

To a lesser extent, the same will be true for the remainder of the team. The best case scenario for the Newcastle team is that the trial doesn’t drag on, no other Knight is implicated and the team suffers only from a peripheral distraction. A friend is in trouble. The club is having its image tarnished. Total focus isn’t on rugby league. That is bad news but not as bad as it could be.

The worst case scenario is that any number of Knights players could be linked to Wicks as purchasers of pills, coke or speed. The Sun Herald reported in December that “a number of Knights first graders have allegedly been caught on police phone taps or surveillance seeking to purchase or buying drugs from Danny Wicks” with police expected to air the tapes throughout the trial, identifying any player involved. One unnamed police officer even declared that Newcastle were “odds on to get the wooden spoon” and it seems doubtful that he is making such an assessment purely on his knowledge of rugby league.

The implication of the piece and the leak from the unnamed officer is that there will be a number of prominent Newcastle players linked to Danny Wicks and the purchasing of drugs as the trial plays out. This will totally gut the Knights and undo the last three seasons of rebuilding. The Knights front office, who have been on the high moral ground since the Andrew Johns drug revelations a few years back, will have little choice but to fire all those named. They could range from a fringe first grader like Mark Taufua or Cooper Vuna to the established stars like Kurt Gidley or Zeb Taia (not that any of these players have been implicated in any way). The loss of any player midseason would damage the club but the loss of one or more due to drug related contract terminations would fracture the club and leave the playing stocks decimated. There would be salary cap implications: if the Knights could wipe their fired players contracts from the cap then they will have to pay overs to their replacements to reach the minimum salary cap, if the Knights cannot wipe said contracts from the cap then they will be fielding a vastly inferior team. The playing group will be split and distrustful of not only the front office but of each other. New players without an offseason will be bought in. There will be little focus on league as the Wicks trial continues. Former Knights players may be implicated. Any number could be called as witnesses to the trial or interviewed by police during the investigation.

Newcastle would be virtual certainties for the spoon and the club would not recover until at least 2015. Stars aren’t easy to replace and even the turnover of middling to fringe players takes time. All this is a doomsday scenario but it is a situation that has a very real possibility of happening. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a Newcastle fan right now and if I had a ticket on them winning the title in 2010 I would tear it up and save myself the stress. They are done already and they can thank Danny Wicks for all that.

Regardless of whether Danny Wicks is found guilty of drug trafficking or not, nobody should be surprised that he was mixed up in a scene where easy cash and little work were the hallmarks. Nobody should be surprised that he put himself ahead of his club. Nobody should be surprised that Danny Wicks only had thoughts for one person: Danny Wicks.

Despite his obvious talent as a footballer- his hands and his speed rare for a player his size- Wicks never came close to fulfilling his potential. He never once started a season in decent shape, a sure tale sign of selfishness and an unwillingness to put the team’s interests ahead of his own. When on the field he spends his time running at the fringes. His statistics through his 69 first grade games tell quite the story: he has started in only 11 matches, he averages only 65 metres and 16.5 tackles per game and he plays less than 40 minutes per match. He is more renowned for his amusing tries than he is for his work ethic and at the end of the day that is why I never had any affection for Wicks. He was more glitz than grit and when you are a front rower not fulfilling your potential, that is not a good way to skew.

The Newcastle Knights have worked very hard to rebuild after Andrew Johns and then Danny Buderus retired. The bought in and stuck with an unpopular coach who put a broom through the club. They persisted with youth. And now, on the verge, of an upswing having blooded a new generation and made the 2009 final, they may be headed straight back down. The city of Newcastle and rugby league needs a strong Knights team. Thanks to Danny Wicks, they most likely won’t for a while yet.

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