Rugby League

Parramatta face four-point deduction unless they budge on opposition to election reform

The aquisition of Kieran Foran and Michael Jennings makes them genuine top-eight contenders but Parramatta are staring at beginning the 2016 season on negative four points if they refuse to bend from their opposition to reforming the way their board is elected.

The postscript to the blue-and-golds' salary-cap breaches last year is still playing out in Sydney's west as the Eels absorb 119 recommendations delivered by a governance review carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Having already handed Parramatta a $465,000 fine, the NRL is demanding the club commits to implementing 52 of the reforms by February 29 or have a suspended penalty of four competition points imposed.

The Eels' opposition centres around several key proposals, principally a recommendation that they switch from a two-year election cycle to a triennial system, whereby directors serve three-year terms but a third of the board is up for re-election every year on a rotating basis.

New arrival: Michael Jennings.
New arrival: Michael Jennings. Photo: Supplied

The NRL is insistent that Parramatta adopt the framework suggested by PWC, believing it would improve stability by diluting the factional bloodletting that has beset the club in recent years and would minimise the influence of all-powerful and heavily campaigning "tickets".  The Eels, however, are standing firm in their resistance.

"I don't think it's a great environment for our club to be involved in annual elections given the recent history while we're trying to sort the direction of the club out. Our view is that we'll stay where we are at the moment," Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp said. 

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"I think it's totally unfair and unrealistic if anyone expected the club to adhere to [all the] recommendations, and that's all they are - recommendations based on a short turnaround review. We're committed to do as many as we can and we believe that by February 29 we'll have all but a handful of the primary recommendations completed and done. By the end of the year we'll have something like 110 of the 119 recommendations implemented.

"But there are a handful of ones that we don't agree with and we've notified the NRL that we don't agree with those particular items and I don't think we should have a gun held to our head."

It's a position that could well see the Eels start four points behind other teams in March, a scenario that would take the gloss entirely off the off-season signing of Jennings. Negotiations with the NRL are continuing but it is understood League Central is not willing to compromise. 

"We're still working with the club and are hopeful they will meet the February 29 deadline," an NRL spokesman said on Wednesday.

The Eels became the first club to overspend in all four salary caps in 2014 and there is a belief at League Central, forged by the findings of the PWC review, that the unsettled nature of the board contributed to the consistent mismanagement of the cap between 2010 and 2013. 

Parramatta elections have been as ugly as any in Australian sport, with allegations of membership tampering, bullying and harassment investigated in the past two years. Before last year's poll the director leading the opposition ticket ended up heading to Supreme Court to contest disciplinary charges brought against him.

Cronulla have also recently adopted a triennial election system and while such a change to the constitution of the Parramatta Leagues Club, which owns the Eels, would have to be approved by members, they may not take much convincing with a four-point penalty hanging over their heads. Another more simple alternative is to change the constitution of the Parramatta National Rugby League Club, the board of which runs the NRL team and in its personnel mirrors that of its sole shareholder, the PLC.

Sharp has urged the NRL not to be a "dictator" when it comes to the reforms, saying the club had been implementing changes for 15 months, including a "triple check" line of communication between their salary cap audit and compliance committee and their recruitment and retention committee. They landed Jennings, but he maintains there has been far more prudence in general when it comes to their cap position.

"We don't get involved in bidding wars," Sharp said. "The recruitment chase for Peta Hiku - we dropped out when it got past our level of means."

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