Balmain chairman Leslie Glenn says the foundation club has been “run over with a steamroller” by the NRL in a deal announced on Friday that will see them forfeit their joint venture partnership in Wests Tigers if they do not repay up to $5 million in loans to the governing body.
Change is afoot at Wests Tigers and both Mick Potter and Balmain are poised to be the victims.
The formation and announcement is likely to spell the end for the Tigers coach, with directors expected to receive a recommendation from chief executive Grant Mayer that Potter be sacked when they convene for the first time on Sunday.
The outlook is similarly dire for the Balmain Tigers. Wests Tigers’ new board includes NRL-appointed independents Marina Go, Rosemary Sinclair and Lucio Di Bartolomeo, as well as Wests Ashfield Leagues director Tony Andreacchio and Simon Cook. But there is no place for any delegates from the financially stricken black-and-gold joint venture partner.
It’s a snub that has upset Balmain officials but it is nothing compared to the pain that will be felt by the foundation club if they can’t find between $3.6 million and $5 million in the next 18 months.
The NRL is picking up the slack to support Wests Tigers while Balmain cannot, and they expect their money back. A deadline of March 31, 2016, has been set for Balmain’s debt to be settled with League Central. If they are unable to find the money, they will be forced to sell their shareholding in the NRL club within six months, or it will be bought by Wests.
Glenn, the Balmain chairman, was scathing of the NRL ultimatum and their absence on the new board, even claiming Balmain figures were pressed under duress into agreeing to an arrangement that looks certain to end their 106-year involvement in elite rugby league.
“We were threatened with losses of our houses and assets during the negotiations,” Glenn said. "We are very upset about it. We believe that it was unjust and unreasonable. We went into the negotiations in good faith and we feel that we were let down, to say the very least.
"We had been able to meet our financial obligations right up until recently when things became much tighter for us, but that was the moment when we were most vulnerable … Unfortunately the NRL, which has been extremely successful financially and able to help out the Titans, Newcastle and St George Illawarra, seemingly can’t help us out because we have the misfortune to be aligned with a very cashed-up outfit in Wests.
"If we can’t pay back that form of loan, that’s it for us. We’re a very significant foundation club with a great history and it would be a tragedy if that were allowed to occur.
“We really didn’t expect to be run over with a steamroller. We made two mistakes: we were poor, and we were naive and trusting of the assurances we received.”
An NRL spokesman said no threats were made against Balmain directors during negotiations. He said the obligations and risks of directors – including potential loss of personal possessions – were discussed.
“But this was done to inform directors of the law and not as any type of threat,” the spokesman said.
Stranded at at two temporary venues – Five Dock Bowling Club and Flemington – due to the Rozelle Village fiasco, the decline of Balmain Tigers Leagues Club has led them to the point of extinction. Their joint venture partners, and now the NRL, have subsequently had to prop up the club and, stripping the emotion away, the pragmatists will say of Balmain: if you can’t pay, you can’t play.
That was the theme from NRL chief executive Dave Smith on Friday. “The Balmain side, at this point, they’re not financial,” Smith said. “The minute they’re financial, the way that we’ve set the deal up, they have the ability to step in. We look forward to that being the case and the Balmain side being able to take up their two seats on the board.”
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