John Lee leaves South Sydney to become Sydney Roosters CEO

John Lee leaves South Sydney to become Sydney Roosters CEO

Add another chapter to the Book of Feuds: John Lee is the new chief executive of the Sydney Roosters.

In a reversal of roles, it was Lee who channelled Maximus Decimus Meridius and gave South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe the thumbs down, defecting from the Rabbitohs to join their bitter rivals. The move will add further spice to the anticipated opening-round blockbuster between the foundation clubs as Lee is expected to begin in his new gig before the start of the competition.

As revealed by Fairfax Media last week, Rabbitohs CEO Lee was the front-runner for the Roosters role after veteran COO Brian Canavan left to take up a posting with the Gold Coast. The tricolours haven't had a CEO since Steve Noyce departed in 2012, but the club used Canavan's departure to review their administration structure.

While the Roosters considered several candidates, Lee was on the top of the shortlist. Given the Rabbitohs went through a restructure of their own, bringing back Shane Richardson as general manager of football after a controversial stint at head office, it appeared Lee would likely explore his options.

Position clear: Roosters CEO John Lee.

Position clear: Roosters CEO John Lee.

Photo: Christopher Pearce

The 2014 premiers will seek a replacement CEO, although football-related matters will be the domain of Richardson. It is understood Crowe and the Souths board had hoped that Lee would stay put after he replaced Richardson about a year ago. However, the opportunity to join the Roosters proved too tempting.

Lee said that he leaves the club in a good position.

"We broke all of the NRL membership records last year, as the first NRL Club to pass 35,000 members," Mr Lee said.

"This is by far the largest membership base in the NRL. South Sydney is in a strong financial position. The club continues to make a profit with the money being set aside for the future needs.

"The corporate partners are engaged and serviced like no other and the club has continued to strengthen its commitment to the community with an increased number of clinics and educational programs through Souths Cares.

"Souths has great staff and committed players, and I wish them all the best into the future."

Rabbitohs chairman Nicholas Pappas said he was disappointed that Lee had made the decision to leave the club.

"John has many positive attributes and established excellent relations with our key stakeholders," Pappas said.

"John enjoyed a good relationship with our board, our investors and our members.

"We wish him all the best for his next challenge."

Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis welcomed the appointment.

"After an extensive process, we are delighted to appoint someone of John's business, management and leadership experience to the role of Sydney Roosters chief executive officer," Politis said.

"Following the recent departure of our former chief operating officer football, Brian Canavan, after a total of 18 years loyal service to our club, we took the opportunity to reassess the structure of our organisation, and there is no doubt that John is the best candidate to lead our club and take our business forward."

The rivalry between the Rabbitohs and Roosters is the most intense in rugby league, further sealed by the defection to the tricolours of superstars including Michael Cleary, Ron Coote and Elwyn Walters. While some have gone the other way in recent years, Lee's switch will only add further theatre to the teams' Allianz Stadium encounter on March 6.

Adrian Proszenko

Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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