Wests Tigers could be forced to appoint a third chairman in less than a year with Barry O’Farrell’s future at the joint venture expected to come to a head before the start of the NRL season.
The former NSW Premier, who has been linked to Australia’s ambassadorial role in India, is poised to leave his position as chief executive of Racing Australia next week with expected ramifications for the Tigers.
The Tigers only announced O’Farrell’s appointment as Marina Go’s successor in March, just days before the start of the NRL season.
It was expected the appointment would bring significant clout to the club, but it is increasingly likely it will be short-lived as O’Farrell closes in on following a number of former politicians who have overseas government posts.
Tigers officials remained tight-lipped on Thursday about O’Farrell’s position, only confirming he was still the club’s chairman.
But sources within the racing industry confirmed to the Herald the former Coalition leader was set to stand down from Racing Australia as soon as their upcoming board meeting next week.
The organisation, which is primarily charged with establishing the Australian rules of racing and managing its record-keeping, was ready to launch a search for O’Farrell’s replacement amid a welfare crisis engulfing the industry.
O’Farrell, who has also held a directorship of the Sydney Sports and Cricket Ground Trust, took less than a week after assuming the Tigers chairmanship to tell the NRL the club wouldn’t be relocated from Sydney as the expansion debate boiled over.
He has also presided over the unification of both sides of the joint venture earlier this year when Balmain’s assets were transferred to Ashfield’s wealthy Wests Leagues.
O’Farrell insisted the continued stability of the club’s financial plight and improvement in on-field performances would be the priorities for the Tigers in 2019.
Michael Maguire’s side blew a chance to reach the finals when they went down to the Sharks in Robbie Farah’s farewell game at Leichhardt Oval, ultimately winding up in ninth spot.
They have already started the overhaul of their roster releasing star back-rower Ryan Matterson with prop Ben Matulino retiring on medical grounds and could soon have a significant change at the top table.
Just last month O’Farrell suggested prosecutions “should, and I suspect, will occur” after the thoroughbred industry was engulfed in a welfare storm after ABC’s 7.30 showed graphic footage of former racehorses being slaughtered in a Queensland abattoir.
Racing Australia released a list of proposed reforms following the program, including each state racing jurisdiction contributing prizemoney to welfare programs and imposing a levy on certain horse sales.
O’Farrell, however, won’t see them through.
Racing Australia is grappling with the issue of the whip in horse racing, the topic set to be a major agenda item when the organisation’s directors meet in Sydney.
Jockey Michael Walker was hit with one of the largest fines in the Melbourne Cup’s history ($10,000) after he was found to have used the whip 12 times on runner-up Prince Of Arran - seven times more than allowed - before the 100-metre mark.
It led to Walker shutting down his social media accounts after he was trolled by animal activists.
O’Farrell could not be contacted on Thursday.