NRL in no man's land when it comes to CEO

RICHARD HINDS
Last updated 05:00 11/11/2012
John Grant
TAMARA DEAN/Fairfax Australia
ANNOUNCEMENT: ARL Commission chairman John Grant is expected to announce David Smith as the new CEO.

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OPINION: Just spent some time in Paris. Drank some great wine. Ate at some wonderful bistros. Left before the Wallabies got to town. So, all in all, the perfect trip.

I had been looking forward to meeting the new NRL chief executive upon my return. The one appointed while I was face down in the foie gras. The man who would take the game into the next era; after the last one had helped drag the sport into this one.

Why did I think there was a new chief executive? No, they were not whispering about whether the NRL would go for an experienced sports administrator or a seasoned business type in the cafes along Boulevard Saint-Germain. Nor, you will be surprised to learn, did much of the conversation on the Champs-Elysees centre on Andrew Johns's new role at Manly or the Wests Tigers coaching swap.

But the electronic shackles binding us to home now stretch around the globe. Even the quick peek at the mobile phone screen required to settle my Spare Son's hostage demands, and ensure he untied his grandparents, expose you to a torrent of unwanted information. In this case, skerricks of NRL news that might lead the reader to believe the commission had found their man.

The headlines said the NRL had released a strategic plan and, more importantly to the marketing men, a new logo. Elsewhere, veteran reporters were calling for the NRL to solve everything from dangerous tackling to a particularly tricky sudoku. Veruca Salt had less items on her Christmas wish list.

Which, again, created the assumption that, while I was feigning intellectual appreciation of something in the Louvre that appeared to be the work of a heavily intoxicated Mr Squiggle, the NRL had moved decisively - if not rapidly - on the chief executive role.

So, having wisely removed the souvenir beret, made reparations to several wounded babysitters and lifted my holiday news ban, it was with some disappointment I discovered Dave Taylor is closer to winning the swimwear section of Miss Universe than the commission seems to the appointment of a new CEO.

Indeed, there now seems every chance David Gallop will have assumed his new role with Football Federation Australia this month before someone has moved into his old office. Which, in turn, will lead some to wonder why, if Gallop was irreplaceable, he was replaced in the first place.

The commission is justified in hastening slowly. Having dispensed with a very competent and loyal servant, it would be disastrous to make a knee-jerk appointment - something panicked administrators might have done after the game was embarrassed by the withdrawal of AFL No 2 Gillon McLachlan, the perfect candidate for the job in every aspect but one - he did not want it.

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''There's been a lot of very good people who we've talked to who want to be part of this game who against our criteria just didn't quite make it,'' said John Grant late last month. Which NRL fans might take as a sign of strength, not blithering incompetence. Clearly, Grant would prefer no man to the wrong man. Which is good policy, if you can keep the wheels spinning while you continue the search.

In that regard, wearing an Elton John-sized pair of rose-coloured glasses, you might conclude the NRL is such a well-oiled machine it can remain operational without a fully-empowered chief executive. The $1 billion television rights deal has been delivered without a new pair of brogues under the big desk. The firings in the referees department have taken place, and the hirings are reportedly under way. Negotiations with the players over the salary cap are imminent. The new fixture has been drawn up.

Yes, things got a bit messy with the Bulldogs at grand final time. But the rapid manner in which Penrith acted this week to fire a player convicted of a malicious assault on an elderly pizza delivery driver was an encouraging sign the clubs are on the same page as the NRL with player behaviour. Well, at least in the same library.

This rash of competence might make you ponder if the NRL could save itself the $1 million-plus salary and plough on as it is. Which is where the fantasy ends.

The game desperately needs to find the person capable of creating the big picture - improving stadiums, strengthening clubs, broadening markets. Preferably before I can stomach another croissant.

The commission model is good for the game. But when the commissioners are running the show, not merely overseeing those who do, that model is broken. Empower, not power, should be John Grant's byword.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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