By ADRIAN PROSZENKO
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Billionaire developer Harry Triguboff has revealed an interest in buying the Wests Tigers, believing his business nous could transform the joint-venture club into a winning outfit.
Triguboff has enjoyed a long association with Balmain and then Wests Tigers as a benefactor and sponsor. The club has found a new backer for 2016 but it won’t necessarily spell the end of the relationship with Triguboff, who is rated by Forbes magazine as the 280th wealthiest individual on the planet. The 82-year-old feels a strong connection to Balmain after being introduced to rugby league through Dawn Fraser, but said any privatisation bid would be for the entire Wests Tigers entity.
Tigerish tenacity: Billionaire developer Harry Triguboff.
Tigerish tenacity: Billionaire developer Harry Triguboff.Photo: Jon Reid
“Officially, they have a new sponsor, I’m out of it. Unofficially, I’m trying to find a way [in],” Triguboff told Fairfax Media. “I have to adopt everyone, all the children are equal. My interest is in the Wests Tigers. Nobody can support a team that is all the time on the bottom, that’s a waste of time. If I feel we can come off it, that’s different. They will have to talk with me my way. I’m a businessman, that’s all. If I do it, I do it properly. I will never do it any other way.”
The Balmain side of the joint venture is coming to a crossroads. It remains a part of Wests Tigers, but its inability to contribute financially has effectively left it as a silent partner in the marriage, without the right to vote at board level. The NRL has loaned Balmain the outstanding monies, but the foundation club is required to contribute its next funding amount on March 31 of next year. If Balmain remains an unfinancial shareholder beyond that date, its shares are defaulted and placed up for sale. Balmain Leagues Club is preparing to submit to Leichhardt Council a new development application for the dilapidated Victoria Road site at Rozelle on Friday in a last-ditch attempt to raise funds and give the Tigers a home.
Triguboff, dubbed “High-rise Harry” after building up his Meriton property empire to the point he is Australia’s third-richest citizen, knows buying the Tigers would be a passionate investment unlikely to yield returns.
“How will I make money out of it? I sell to the Chinese. You think the Chinese care about rugby league,” he quipped. “This has nothing to do with business. Not a penny. I like the game so I give them money. I only watch two sports, this and tennis I like. It’s easy to understand, you don’t have to be a professor. If we can possibly find a way, we will find it.”
Triguboff has already contributed millions to the Tigers over the years. Most recently, the property magnate built a kitchen in the club’s training base at Concord, a location he believes could host NRL games if revamped. The former taxi driver plans to speak with Tigers officials before determining whether to proceed with a privatisation bid.
“There’s many things we need to do,” he said. "First, let’s see how I can be convinced that I have found a way for them to play and win.
“You know something, I have never laid a brick in my life. But my people have laid more bricks than anybody else put together. Because I know how to pay. Let’s see if I can find a way here. It shouldn’t be impossible. I think the NRL have to decide whether they want them to remain or not. Without the goodwill of NRL, nothing can be done. I will have to talk to them too.”
Triguboff has built his empire from humble beginnings and believes the secret to success is ensuring everyone he involves in business enjoys success.
“If you’re in business or sport, this is the way you do it,” he explained. "I employ thousands of people, maybe 5000 or 6000. In my mind, they are all doing well. Because if they are not doing well in their minds, I’m not as strong as I could be. Every buyer who buys from me, I believe they are doing well. People tell me ‘if you kept it, you would have got more money’. I don’t look at it that way …
“I say to those kids [at Wests Tigers], they should feel they are in a winning team. If we have problems - for instance, we can’t buy players and others can - we have to look at that. It has to be a level playing field, that’s it. That’s what it’s like in business, everybody has to win. Every worker, every purchaser, every supplier. They all have to win. It’s not the one who will give it to you the cheapest or gets it the dearest, that’s not it. You all have to win enough.”