User:RB2011/Politics of Rugby League

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National Rugby League

National Rugby League (NRL) club boards[edit]

The About Australia web page on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2008) website describes Australia as a sporting nation with a strong “sporting culture”. Australian sport therefore receives a great deal of media attention and rugby league is no different, particularly with the poor reputation of players in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition through ill discipline and antisocial behaviour. However, recent media attention has been placed on particular players who have spoken out against NRL club boards such as ex Penrith Panther’s captain Petero Civoniceva. Using triangulated media articles as support, this essay will discuss the politics of the NRL with a focus on club board’s influence over the operations of the football club, particularly in regards to player and coaching contracts. It will also debate whether board members remain unaccountable for club decisions. Penrith Panthers, Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles cases will be examined throughout, all of which have experienced club controversies involving board members and poor decision making.

Penrith Panthers[edit]

Petero Civoniceva[edit]

Players who have actively lobbied for change have experienced mixed reactions but a great deal of media attention. For example, ex Penrith Panthers Captain Peter Civoniceva strongly criticised the Penrith board in the Panther newsletter which is distributed at club home games (Massoud 2011). Civoniceva called for fans to relieve the current board of their duties after becoming increasingly frustrated with the decision-making process at board level and lack of player consultation in terms of coaching contracts (Massoud 2011). Civoniceva and fellow team mates were incensed by the sacking of then coach Matt Elliott and again when Steve Georgallis was not selected to fill the role (Beniuk 2011).


The comments sparked a media frenzy within rugby league journalism and attracted comments from a number of different rugby league players, ex players and management (Beniuk 2011). He received support from fellow players but strong criticism from others such as ex Panther Mark Geyer who is the brother-in-law of Penrith board member Greg Alexander. Geyer retorted on his radio show “he’s (Civoniceva) the captain of a club that underachieved. Blame yourself” (Beniuk 2011). This blind and narrow minded cynicism from ex players does in no way contribute to the overall situation let alone aid the club in resolving the issue at hand. Insidious comments such as Geyer’s should not receive any attention at all. Additionally, the board’s response or lack of action also did not do the club any favours in resolving the issue, neither has the $20 million in losses over the last two years (Massoud 2011).

The Panthers Board[edit]

The board have not been questioned or confronted about these immense losses (Massoud 2011). This case shows the tension that can arise between players and club boards as a result of poor decision making and highlights the lack of accountability that board members face even after the publication of substantiated evidence. Replacing or amending the Panthers board seems to be an extremely difficult task to achieve, whether this is due to members being considered a “protected species” remains to be seen but what is clear is that the Penrith Panthers board are very lucky to still have a seat.

Parramatta Eels[edit]

CEO Paul Osborne Controversy[edit]

Boards and its members often do not take responsibility for their actions. NRL club Parramatta Eels recently experienced allegations regarding financial irregularities which have been linked to CEO Paul Osborne (Read 2011, McClymont 2011, Riccio 2011). For example, Osborne was forced to repay $35,000 in unauthorised payments made on his club credit card. It was later revealed that club chairman Roy Spagnolo loaned Osborne money, upon Osborne’s request, to repay the original debt. Pirtek, one of the Eels major sponsors, then threatened to withdraw the $2 million major sponsorship if Osborne was not sacked immediately (Read 2011, McClymont 2011, Riccio 2011). A decision regarding Osborne’s future has still not been made but chairman Spagnolo stated that Osborne’s future is still with the club (Read 2011, McClymont 2011, Riccio 2011). This emphasises a clear lack of accountability at the Eels, especially with a $2 million sponsorship deal at risk. It also highlights the notion that board members are very difficult to have removed especially if Osborne is not ultimately stood down. Perhaps individuals with personal ties to a club or individuals who have significantly contributed to the club throughout their career receive preferential and more favourable treatment when controversies or allegations arise. However, for clubs such as the Eels to move forward, individuals must be held accountable and suffer the consequences of their actions regardless of what they have previously done for the club.

Recruitment Disaster[edit]

It is easy for club boards to become a stale part of the culture and resist change when it becomes necessary. Board members become imbedded in past club culture and often prefer traditional methods over modern and proven techniques. This can be said of Parramatta in terms of recruitment policies which has been heavily criticised by players and supporters. The Eels board opted to contract older and more experienced players over developing younger talent at the club. For example, four players from other NRL clubs were contracted to the Parramatta Eels first grade side for the 2011 season. Three of the four players have now retired with no reported repercussions for the board (Read 2011, McClymont 2011). This again highlights the lack of accountability and poor decision making at the club particularly by the board members. They set and develop the club’s recruitment policies and are heavily involved in the design of contracts and player agreements (Read 2011, McClymont 2011).

Manly Sea Eagles[edit]

Des Hasler Debacle[edit]

Manly Sea Eagles is another NRL club which has experienced indifferent actions from the board. Bob Fulton, one of Manly’s more influential figures after a significant contribution to the club questioned the decision making of the Sea Eagles board in regards to two significant choices in the past two years (Ritchie 2011). The first resulted in the sacking of recognised media manager Peter Peters and the second caused coach Des Hasler to leave the club after more than a year of stalling on a contract extension (Ritchie 2011). Hasler signed with Canterbury Bulldogs as head coach for the 2013 season after being exasperated with the Manly Sea Eagles board but is still contracted for the 2012 season (Ritchie 2011, Read 2011).

Board Reaction[edit]

Several board members attempted to have Hasler removed for this season but player pressure and input from influential figures forced the board to retain him (Ritchie 2011, Read 2011). The Manly board have either lost touch with the game of rugby league and what is good for the club or are placing personal desires ahead of the club as a whole. Hasler has been an extremely successful coach for Manly winning two premierships in six years (Ritchie 2011, Read 2011). The board blamed financial restrictions for the inability to match the offer from Canterbury but Hasler confirmed that his contract at the Bulldog’s is worth less than the Manly offer (Hooper 2011). Hasler also stated that despite the larger offer, he could not remain at a club where the board had hidden agendas and continued to fight internally (Hooper 2011). It is remarkable that the board did not extend Hasler’s contract when they had the chance and that they are now trying to hide behind inaccurate information. This “debacle” can again be related to the imbedded culture of a lack of answerability of club boards in the NRL. It is consistently coaching staff or players who lose out because of board incompetence.

Increasing Accountability[edit]


It is easy to criticise boards when clubs experience controversies as immediate action is required often under a great deal of pressure. But boards surely understand that the role is one based on responsibility and handling pressure where decisions need to be made in a timely manner to benefit the club as a whole, not to further hidden agendas which can be said of certain clubs in the past. Decision makers need to be held accountable to ensure the integrity of the club remains in tact, to ensure the club experiences success through effective procedures and to maintain the support of loyal fans who are arguably the most important aspect of any club. Taking care of these issues will only make it easier for players to perform to the best of their ability on the field. Off field controversies and problems negatively influence on-field performance and players should not have to worry about issues relating to coaching staff contracts, the club’s financial situation and poor decision making at board level. One problem fuelling the lack of accountability of club boards may lie in the fact that there are very few, if any, controls to evaluate or monitor these decisions. If the club CEO and Chair are involved such as the Parramatta Eels case with Paul Osborne and Roy Spagnolo who is going to oversee their actions if they are of the highest authority at the club? Are there measures in place to ensure this does not occur or how is this to be handled when issues such as this arise? Perhaps independent parties or auditors need to become more involved in clubs to ensure operations are effective, ethical and avoiding conflicts of interest. This could be one method the NRL implements to avoid controversies involving club boards and to increase the accountability of board members.


From the Penrith Panthers, Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles examples it can be seen that National Rugby League club boards in the recent past have not been held accountable for their poor decisions. The lack of player consultation before selecting a new coach by Panthers board members and the sacking of then coach Matt Elliott drove Representative Captain Petero Civoniceva to write a scathing report about the board in the club newsletter. Civoniceva will return to the Brisbane Broncos which will surely prove a huge loss for the Panthers next year. A $20 million loss over two years at the Panthers and no action also highlights the lack of accountability at the club. At the Parramatta Eels, a clear conflict of interest had arisen between club CEO Paul Osborne and Chairman Roy Spagnolo involving the borrowing of funds to repay a debt to the club. This situation was exacerbated when Spagnolo announced that Osborne would remain at the club despite the major sponsor threatening to withdraw its $2 million funding if Osborne was not removed from his position. Manly Sea Eagles will lose dual-premiership coach Des Hasler to the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2013 after over a year stalling with a contract negotiation. Board members tried to hide behind financial restrictions by saying the club could not match Canterbury’s offer but Hasler revealed that his contract with Canterbury was less than what the Sea Eagles had offered. The board has not experienced any repercussions. These three examples clearly highlight how poorly certain NRL club boards have acted in the past without any serious repercussions. In the future, this must be changed for clubs to be successful on the field, to be successful as a business off the field and to maintain a loyal fan base.

Reference List[edit]