Rugby league executives have been clocking up the frequent flyer points in the past two weeks, jetting from one side of the world to the other.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg was in the UK last week for the Roosters’ successful World Club Challenge campaign, while ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys and chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo were in the US this week.
V’landys refused to comment on the secret trip with Abdo when this column contacted him, but it can be revealed he met with Fox Corp executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch in Los Angeles.
He and Abdo then headed to San Francisco where they met with the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon - presumably about the looming broadcast negotiations from 2023, when such streaming services will be used by the NRL as leverage for a fatter deal.
V’landys was even less inclined to discuss Greenberg’s two-year contract extension, which was supposed to be signed before Christmas, then early in the new year, then when V’landys returned from holidays in late January, then early February, then the end of this month …
The pair are expected to meet late on Friday, after the annual general meeting, to discuss the deal. But it wouldn’t surprise if negotiations dragged on until the start of the season.
V’landys and Greenberg say there’s nothing to see here, but the reality is there's a considerable power play happening behind the scenes as V’landys stamps his authority on the code.
If V’landys had complete faith in his chief executive, surely the extension — which was one of the loose conditions of former chairman Peter Beattie standing aside in October last year — would have been signed off by now.
As one club boss said this week: “In this game, your chairman and chief executive need to be so close that you can’t fit a cigarette paper between them”.
V’landys has consistently denied theories about him wanting Greenberg’s job, although his remarks at a Carbine Club lunch at the Magic Millions racing carnival in early January about juggling his day job as Racing NSW chief executive while ruling rugby league stirred plenty of chatter in both sports.
“I'll decide in the next 12 months,” V'landys told the room, according to several people at the function. “If I see that I can't do both, I will have to make a decision.”
V’landys’ contract with Racing NSW ends at the end of this year, having taken over as chief executive in 2004 and fought - and won - many, many battles.
Rugby league is a different beast, though. In racing, V’landys owns the room. In rugby league, he remains an outsider.
He runs racing through fear and has adopted a similar approach at League Central, promising to sack anybody that leaks sensitive information to the media.
He also made it very clear at his introductory media conference as chairman that he will live and die by the size of the next broadcast deal.
He promised a “better result” than the current deal of $1.8 billion with Channel Nine (publisher of this masthead) and Fox Sports.
This coming season is the third of a five-year deal, but negotiations have been cranked up early because the NRL is wrestling with the idea of expanding its so-called “footprint” from 2023. If new teams are to be part of the next broadcast deal, they will need to be set-up sooner than later.
V’landys tripped himself up last year when he declared in The Courier-Mail he wanted a second team in Brisbane, in a 17-team competition, with Perth to be snubbed because it's an AFL city.
Many within the game considered the interview to be grandstanding. At the very least, it caught a lot of people off-guard. Why he would make such bold statements about what “the footprint” would look like without first consulting its key stakeholders?
His trip to the US with Abdo and not Greenberg has been interpreted by some club bosses as a sign that V’landys wants to cut Greenberg out of the broadcast deal. It’s no secret that V’landys is a huge supporter of Abdo.
Greenberg attended the WCC after Roosters chairman Nick Politis complained about the lack of any NRL officials at last year’s match against Wigan. He also met with key Super League stakeholders, as well as Australian High Commissioner to the UK George Brandis, about the Kangaroo tour at the end of this season.
Abdo was supposed to be on the same trip but was a sudden withdrawal before being redirected to the US with V'landys.
(For the purposes of transparency, this column covered the Roosters’ WCC campaign as a guest of the NRL).
ARL Commission sources say the board has been spilt about Greenberg’s contract being extended. Is Greenberg the right man for the game’s most thankless job — even if it does pay upwards of $1.2 million a year plus bonuses?
The announcement on Thursday of $30m profit for last season suggests he’s doing OK, although club chief executives will grill him about the game’s costs at the annual general meeting.
There’s still a belief, certainly among the clubs and the states, that Greenberg is more worried about surviving than having vision; about perception and optics.
He’s made some mistakes but had several wins, and at the very least the game cannot really afford to sack another chief executive and find a new one, especially this close to the start of the season. Better the devil you know and all that.
Should he survive, it will be compelling viewing as he goes about his business for the next two years with V’landys sitting on his shoulder.
They are two different type of sports administrators: Greenberg is a slick media performer who also has the ear of Premier Gladys Berejiklian. V'landys loathes ceremony, avoids a microphone at all costs, and works brilliantly in the shadows.
The game probably needs both but, as it stands, you can fit several cigarette papers between both of them.
Grounds for concern
This will barely surprise: there is growing pessimism that the new Allianz Stadium will be ready in time for the 2022 NRL grand final.
Reports in The Australian this week that documents published by Infrastructure NSW showed work on the stadium was running months behind lines up with fears among SCG Trustees that the project won't be completed by mid-2022.
The fear is the long-range weather forecasts of heavy rain in coming months will slow down construction.
The NSW government has assured the Trust as well as the NRL that the stadium will be handed over in late July, allowing enough time to play matches at the venue ahead of the grand final.
But if it doesn’t eventuate expect the NRL to ask for even more compensation from the NSW government for playing a third grand final at the SCG — or potentially move the match to Brisbane.
Masoe looking on the light side
If you ever need some perspective, or reason to give yourself a flock of uppercuts to get on with the business of life, think about Mose Masoe.
The former Roosters prop is lying in a hospital bed in the north of England after suffering a serious neck injury while playing a trial match for Hull KR.
When I visited him last weekend, he was smiling and joking about how the injury had been good for weight loss.
“I think I’m probably 110kgs now — I’m usually 130,” he said. “It’s funny, though. In here, they're telling me to put some weight on, they're using protein and trying to put weight back on me. I'm like, ‘This is the best thing about it. This is good for me, I'm light as!'”
With three young children and a third on the way, Masoe is going to need a lot of help. A fundraiser in Australia is being organised. You can also donate at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hull-kingston-rovers-trust.
“Where your people cheer on some of the world’s greatest cricketers, from Sue-Chin Tendoolkar to Vir-ot Ko-Lee ...” — US President Donald Trump trying to name drop Indian cricket legends to a 100,000-strong crowd in Ahmedabad is the greatest thing I have ever heard, or at least this week.
Rugby league lost one of its true giants earlier this week with the death of inaugural Canberra Raiders coach and life member Don Furner, 87. He’d been very crook during grand final week but in true Furner style the family didn’t want the focus to be on him. This week, it deserves to be.
Revelations that Rugby Australia and the Waratahs gagged Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Samu Kerevi from speaking their minds about Israel Folau provide further proof of how poorly all concerned have handled this dramahhhhh.
It’s a big weekend for …
the poor old world of sport as the coronavirus spreads like a bad rumour. The smart money is on the Tokyo Olympics being postponed. Yikes.
It’s an even bigger weekend for …
Sydney Kings guard Casper Ware, who comes up against his old club Melbourne United when the NBL play-offs get underway at Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday night.