- Apr 7, 2013
Show of unity: Wests Tigers deputy chairman Nick Di Girolamo. Photo: Nick Moir
IF EVER the title of this column is appropriate to an issue in sport and business, it is the impasse at Wests Tigers.
Balmain, one half of the joint venture with Wests, has owed $160,000 to the NRL club since July last year. The debt arose following cost over-runs at Wests Tigers and while the Magpies have been able to meet the call for funds, Balmain has not.
Wests, who peer through black and white glasses and see a joint venture club clothed in orange and black, have been frustrated for years at the perception Wests Tigers is often referred to as ''Balmain''.
So, with Balmain unable to pay their share of the call to funds, Wests seized on an opportunity at a recent board meeting to do precisely what St George did years ago when their joint venture partners, the Steelers, could not stump up half of St George Illawarra's debt.
St George demanded the chairmanship of the NRL club and therefore the casting vote at board meetings, breaking the deadlock that arose when the partners could not agree.
On April 18, the Magpies offered Wests Tigers a loan of $1.5 million over three years on the condition Wests have the chairmanship and therefore the casting vote for the period of the loan. Balmain countered with a compromise proposal that both clubs contribute $250,000, plus Balmain pay the outstanding $160,000, with the sums to be advanced within 14 days.
Wests, quite reasonably, said, ''Show me the money'', asking how could Balmain find $410,000 in two weeks when they couldn't produce $160,000 for nine months.
The meeting also discussed the possibility of an independent audit of Wests Tigers' governance structure, particularly in view of the cost over-runs, partly caused by the continuing payment of the contract of sacked coach, Tim Sheens.
Balmain proposed a Balmain board member should supervise the process on a temporary basis, a proposition rejected by Wests, who believe Wests Tigers is already a Tigers operation.
It would seem attempts by Wests Tigers' chief executive, the very decent Stephen Humphreys - son of Balmain legend Kevin - to be even-handed having not satisfied either side. The meeting eventually resolved that no director could assume a paid role at Wests Tigers.
On Tuesday evening, with the 14-day deadline for Balmain's $410,000 approaching, Wests were advised that shareholder loan documents had been drawn up for both clubs to provide the monies, meaning the timeframe had restarted.
To the Magpie camp, this has been interpreted as yet another stall tactic, with them again demanding, ''Show me the money''.
But on Wednesday night, the $160,000 ''equalisation payment'' arrived. On Thursday, the incoming Wests Tigers chairman, Mike Bailey from the Magpie side, went to NRL headquarters. The joint venture partners alternate the chair on an annual basis, and Bailey was accompanied by deputy chairman, Balmain's Nick Di Girolamo, in a show of unity.
The visit had been arranged by Humphreys, mainly to introduce Bailey but it coincided with the opportunity to discuss possible NRL funding, including a Centre of Excellence at Campbelltown. Di Girolamo is on record as saying he would like centres of excellence at Leichhardt and Campbelltown.
Wests say these centres could have been built years ago if Balmain had been able to provide their half of the funding.
Di Girolamo says: ''It would be harsh to make Balmain a whipping boy for any blame about the progression of the joint venture,'' perhaps side-stepping the possibility that financial problems at Balmain Leagues Club have prevented the Tigers providing investment funds to the NRL club.
Balmain stalwarts also point out that when the joint venture was formed in 1999, Wests were broke and it was Balmain who carried the financial burden for three years, providing $1 million a year.
Today, however, Balmain is $6.8 million in debt, largely from borrowings to keep in the funding race with Wests. They also fund their junior representative teams and on Saturday play Penrith in the final of the S.G. Ball competition.
Di Girolamo says of last year's winning S.G. Ball team: ''We've got two superstars of the future in Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses. But from the under-18s up, we want to be focused on the Wests Tigers brand.''
However, Wests Tigers' future probably depends on stopping the halfback combination of Brooks and Moses joining another NRL club, otherwise it is looking at recurring headlines of the ones that got away.
This could make Wests Tigers as dysfunctional on the field, as it is in the board room.
Di Girolamo obviously disagrees, saying: ''The chairman and I are working very well together to ensure Wests Tigers as a joint venture prospers in the future.''
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/wests-tigers-board-rift-could-spill-on-to-the-field-20130503-2iyf7.html#ixzz2SIglX2Gq