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Club bosses heading for showdown with NRL chiefs

In the spotlight: NRL CEO Dave Smith.

In the spotlight: NRL CEO Dave Smith. Photo: Peter Stoop

A showdown is looming on Wednesday as some of the game's most powerful figures prepare to confront NRL chief Dave Smith over his plan to demand independent directors at clubs, and raise other issues that have left them increasingly disenchanted with League Central.

Frustrated at how the NRL's intentions for governance reform have been presented publicly, club chairpersons will use the meeting with Smith in Sydney to seek assurances that independents will not be thrust upon them, arguing that the make-up of boards should be assessed on a case-by-case basis rather than a one-rule-fits-all framework.

There remains great confusion in clubland about how the NRL's landmark funding shake-up, announced in principle in May, will be rolled out when it is scheduled to begin on November 1. The competition's 16 teams stand to lose up to $1 million if they don't meet minimum standards of governance proposed to include seven-member boards for all clubs with three independents and female representation.

Smith has denied reports that clubs will also need to have an independent chairpersons – a requirement that would jeopardise the positions of long-standing club bosses – but at least one club says they have been told by NRL officials that it is a condition that remains in the blueprint for reform.

There is also angst about what will constitute the independence of a director amid concerns the same criteria will be applied as that used in the formation of the ARL Commission. If that was the case, new independent board members would not be allowed to have had any association with their club for three years.

The NRL is expected to shortly announce three independent directors to a seven-member Wests Tigers board in a deal aimed at improving relations between the joint-venture partners and the financial viability of the merged entity. The NRL's head of club services, Tony Crawford, is also in the process of appointing four independent directors to a new Newcastle board after they took control from embattled former billionaire Nathan Tinkler on June 14.

At other clubs such as Parramatta, mired in factional upheaval in recent years, the introduction of independents could serve to provide much-desired stability.

Club chairpersons are concerned, however, at the prospect of governance guidelines being applied uniformly to every club no matter their size, financial status and ownership structure, and intend to make that clear to Smith on Wednesday.  

Club bosses including Nick Politis (Sydney Roosters), Ray Dib (Canterbury), Phil Gould (Penrith), Damian Keogh (Cronulla), Warren Lockwood (Dragons), Mike Bailey (Tigers), Scott Penn (Manly) and Bill Wavish (New Zealand Warriors) came together in July in a bid to form a united front against the proposed reforms.

They intend to press Smith for details on Wednesday and spell out their opposition to the blanket concept of passionate, long-serving directors being discarded to make way for business-savvy candidates with no existing ties to the clubs. 

Those who attend are also expected to express their dissatisfaction at what they perceive to be a growing disconnect between NRL head office and the clubs. Several were angry to learn of plans for an NRL rookie draft via Smith's comments in a newspaper last month. Others are frustrated at the absence of the ARL Commission chairman John Grant in the governance-reform process, believing they could have benefited from his input.

A spokesman said the NRL would continue to consult with the clubs in relation to minimum standards for boards. "This remains a work in progress and we will continue to discuss the best way forward with the clubs," he said.

7 comments so far

  • A draft imposed on young players would probably fail the legal test . It would only take one dissatisfied player to have it declared illegal .No matter how many would be prepared to voluntarily enter to develop a career ,what is wrong with the current free market ? Just what freedom does an 18 yr old aspirant have in battling a system which is his only path to a career ?
    Looking at the usual battle for the semis and the last round we have this weekend , is there any need to cure a defect and is there a gross imbalance between clubs .Who would want to be draftedto a club with obvious bad management , poor coaching , far removed from family and friends and constantly at the bottom of the ladder ?

    Baulkham Hills
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 8:22AM
    • You can see the hand of Politis in this protest organisation

      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 9:19AM
      • Of course you can - and why shouldn't he take a hand in it. The Roosters are financially stable and successful both on and off the field. They are not a governance basket case like some other NRL entities... I am sure at least 99.9% of Easts Board, Club Members, Supporters, Players and Employees are 100% behind our current structure, and we certainly don't want change to a successful club foisted on us from accross the car-park.

        Enmore Chook
        Date and time
        September 02, 2014, 4:11PM
    • Yes you can see the hand of Nick Politis, Ray Dib and every other good administrator questioning the reasoning of having independent directors, why would any club want to get rid of a successful board to bring in 3 independents with no affiliation with you club? If it aint broke, doesn't need fixing.

      Central Coast
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 10:58AM
      • The NRL are off and away on another headline which distracts from the refereeing standard. However, on what basis can the NRL demand an autonomous organisation put any person onto a club board. The boards manage the football teams on behalf of the owners be they "Privately or Community" owned. Who is going to indemnify the owners against action of the independent board members? This could result in our clubs being puppets for the NRL, a possibility that would even leave the Kremlin in awe of it's audacity.

        Gymea Bay
        Date and time
        September 02, 2014, 1:05PM
        • The NRL Clubs - still run by the few for the benefit of the few

          Date and time
          September 02, 2014, 1:19PM
          • Another decision by the NRL that stinks of running a business and not of running a sport. Someone from the ARLC needs to wake up and realise that the two are hugely different, Mr Smith needs to be shunted off to the side and he should be the commercial manager and we should then try to find a sports administrator who is willing to jump in and run the sport. A banker who does not know, follow or understand rugby league or the NRL was never going to be a success.

            Date and time
            September 02, 2014, 2:42PM

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