Rugby League

By Chris Barrett and Michael Chammas

Cricket NSW chair John Warn and NIB chief Mark Fitzgibbon approached about NRL CEO job

NRL bosses will be briefed on the hunt for the game's next chief executive at a club CEOs meeting in Auckland on Friday as two other figures head-hunted for the job emerged.

The ARL Commission is interviewing 10 external candidates before beginning discussions with rugby league-linked applicants such as the favourite for the position, Todd Greenberg, and ARLC chairman John Grant is expected to update club bosses who have gathered across the Tasman before this weekend's Nines tournament.

While there is an increasing belief that the new CEO will be an existing league identity such as NRL head of football Greenberg or Warriors boss Jim Doyle, the net has been cast wide via the recruitment agency appointed by the ARLC, Crown & Marks.

The latest name to emerge among the non-league figures approached by recruiters is John Warn, the highly respected chair of Cricket NSW who has carved out a successful career in Sydney with retail giant Westfield, while NIB Health Funds chief and Newcastle Knights board member Mark Fitzgibbon is also believed to have been sounded out.

A former first-grade cricketer with Manly-Warringah, Warn is a savvy operator with a combination of a background in sports administration and high-level business nous making him an appealing potential successor to Dave Smith.

Grant and co would have a tough job, though, convincing him to take the 50-metre walk from Cricket NSW's base at Driver Avenue to League Central if he was their chosen man.

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Warn not only has a high-flying career with Westfield but after leading a transformation of Cricket NSW since he took the chairmanship in 2013 has been earmarked for higher office in cricket.

While former adidas executive Kevin Roberts is seen by many as the likely successor to James Sutherland when his long tenure as Cricket Australia CEO eventually ends, Warn would also be viable replacement for Sutherland when he decides to depart and if not a future national board director or chairman.

Fitzgibbon, meanwhile, is a member of the Knights' board tasked with rebuilding the club and has had a long-time involvement with Newcastle also as a sponsor.  

However, he is also considered unlikely to accept the job if offered it, with a major issue counting against the ARLC in the pursuit of top-line executive talent is the limited salary compared to what those in positions like Fitzgibbon are paid outside the game.

Smith earned more than $1.5 million a year, as does Sutherland at CA, but whoever lands the job of running league in Australia is tipped for a salary of less than $1m.

The list of external candidates includes some who have applied and others, like Warn, who were identified by the recruitment agency. 

While Accor Hotels chief Simon McGrath is among the applicants Geelong Cats CEO Brian Cook and Richmond Tigers boss Brendon Gale rejected approaches made on behalf of the ARLC before Christmas.

From inside league circles Greenberg, Doyle, Raelene Castle (Canterbury), Paul White (Brisbane) and NRL chief commercial officer Michael Brown are in line for the position. 

The Nines is effectively an off-site schmoozefest for club and head office administrators and shapes as an opportunity for the leading contender, Greenberg, to garner further support. 

Other issues to be discussed at the CEO's meeting on Friday include plans by departing NRL head of strategy Shane Richardson for the game's second tier.

Richardson, who is returning to South Sydney as general manager of football, will update clubs on his proposed Platinum League, which would sit above the NSW Cup and include teams from New Zealand and Fiji.

The CEOs are expected to seek clarity on whether this year is the last season for the NYC, which is due to be replaced by state based Under 20s competitions.

New RLPA chief executive Ian Prendergast will also address the club bosses on player welfare and education issues, as well as collective bargaining negotiations.

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