British billionaire wants to purchase NRL club

ADRIAN PROSZENKO
Last updated 14:00 27/08/2014
Marwan Koukash
Getty
MONEY BAGS: Salford Red Devils owner Marwan Koukash is prepared to pay cash up front in an attempt to fulfill his ambition of purchasing an NRL team before next year's kick off.

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Marwan Koukash is prepared to pay cash up front in an attempt to fulfill his ambition of purchasing an NRL team before next year's kick off.

Koukash already owns the Salford Red Devils, saving the Super League club from financial ruin, and has now turned his attention to an Australian club.

While the British billionaire wouldn't divulge the "two or three clubs" he is in discussions with, Newcastle are believed to be among them.

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Like Nathan Tinkler, whose tumultuous stint as Knights owner recently came to an end, Koukash said he would be prepared to provide a bank guarantee to allay concerns he wouldn't be around for the long term.

"If it needs to be done, I'd do it," Koukash said. "People only need to look at the level of investment I put in Salford to see that I would do that.

"I've been working on two or three fronts. Obviously not everything is in my hands, it's in the hands of other people as well. I'm just trying to see if something can be finalised at the start of next season.

"I've had discussions with [NRL CEO] Dave Smith and [NRL's head of club services] Tony Crawford. That's up to them to decide, it would be great to have the support."

Koukash is the ultimate rags to riches tale. Palestinian born, as an eight-year-old he had to walk with his family for three days without food after the family farm was bombed.

He didn't own a pair of shoes until he was 12. Today, he is worth an estimated $3 billion, with most of his wealth derived from the establishment of a corporate training company.

During Tinkler's reign, there was a disconnect between the Knights and the community of Newcastle.

However, Koukash said he never forgot the fans, pointing to the fact he is setting up a Salford advisory panel comprised of supporters.

"Most importantly, I am a guy who listens very much to the fans," he said.

"In every business I have, I've always consulted with the customers and rugby league is no different.

"For example, I don't have a boardroom full of [Reds] directors advising me what to do.

"Instead, I'm going to [implement] a fan's panel. There are about 200 applications I have received and I'm going to choose about 12 of them, who will be advising me on issues within the club.

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"I'm somebody who is a lot closer to the fans and I'm also a great believer in sometimes you can't buy success. It's something you need to develop, especially in a game like rugby league.

"I think that's the best model, there's no one closer to the action than the fan."

With the majority of NRL clubs operating at a loss or just breaking even, it would be difficult for the ARLC to knock back Koukash's millions.

But the racing magnate, who is expected to again enter runners into the Melbourne Cup, could find privatisation a tough sell after the Tinkler debacle.

It's understood the NRL won't be rushing into any decision, particularly in relation to Newcastle given the governing body is still sourcing independent directors for the club.

"I hope they do [give the green light] because it's a competition I admire," Koukash said.

"Since I started in rugby league in this part of the world I've always had ambitions to grow the game here to compete with the NRL. If you can't beat them, you might as well join them."

WHO WANTS TO BE BOUGHT BY A BILLIONAIRE?

The clubs most likely in Marwan Koukash's sights.

NEWCASTLE: The most obvious target for a takeover following Nathan Tinkler's demise. However, Novocastrians are sceptical about the private ownership model following the bitter experiences under the Hunter Sports Group's ownership. The NRL is partly filling the ownership void at present and has slated its desire to offload the club to a suitable investor. Self-made billionaires with a penchant for horses and footy clubs could be a tough sell to Knights fans at present.

CRONULLA:  Have lurched from one disaster to the next and are without a major sponsor for next year. The ASADA scandal has conservatively cost the Sharks $4 million and that figure could rise if more players join Josh Cordoba, Broderick Wright and Isaac Gordon succeed in suing the club for negligence. The much-vaunted property redevelopment is said to underpin the financial future of Cronulla but there will be little monetary benefit in the short term.

WESTS TIGERS: Has been a basketcase off the field. Balmain's perilous financial position has been much reported, with directors from that side of the joint venture set to forgo voting rights in exchange for the NRL making up the shortfall. Delays in the governing body appointing three independent directors have created a void in leadership at the top.

DRAGONS: Another joint venture struggling financially, the Dragons also had to go to the NRL cap in hand for assistance. Like most clubs, can no longer simply rely on propagation payments from the leagues clubs to keep the football side in the black.

GOLD COAST: Under so much financial pressure they are not spending all of their full salary cap allowance. Punting coach John Cartwright, who is still on the payroll for two additional seasons, won't help. Losing the battle for hearts, minds and memberships to the Gold Coast Suns, while the fallout from the ill-fated Titans Centre of excellence continues.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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