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No worlds left to conquer? Why PVL could soon be lost to league

“Rugby league saved me as a migrant kid in Wollongong and if I can get the game up and going and in a good financial position, I will have repaid the debt.”

Should the NRL, in 18 days’ time, be the only football competition in the English-speaking world playing matches, and tied to a long-term, lucrative TV deal in the midst of a global financial meltdown, V’landys is entitled to be nicknamed Zeus, the boss god – a nod to his Greek heritage.

Many refer to him as PVL, an apt abbreviation considering it sounds like a popular cement. He has been the glue which has kept the game together during this COVID-19 lockout.

He runs both Racing NSW and the NRL, keeping hours which would rival those of his Wollongong steelworker father, who did double shifts, and his mother, who worked in her sister-in-law’s cafe.

But should he leave the game, where he has been effectively executive chair for six months, it raises the question: who on the ARLC would replace him? And what do the commissioners do, anyway?

Wayne “Junior” Pearce is the front man for Project Apollo, the group dedicated to re-starting the NRL competition when the pandemic shut it down in March.

(Apollo, in Greek, mythology was the son of Zeus, described as a “beardless, youthful, athletic fellow” but not the sharpest god in the temple).

The ARLC is now down to six members, following the resignations of Amanda Laing, a senior executive with Foxtel and Mark Coyne, who failed to self-report an offence during six weeks of house arrest in Singapore.

In each month of the tenure of sacked NRL chief executive, Todd Greenberg, the ARLC was handed a financial report. If costs were escalating so rapidly, why didn’t the ARLC under PVL’s predecessor, Peter Beattie, haul them back?

Beattie’s predecessor, John Grant, appointed Greenberg and presumably was satisfied the programs run by Rugby League Central fulfilled expensive functions many of the NRL clubs could not.

Some of the commissioners ticked off on approximately 60 financial reports during Greenberg’s five-year term.

While V’landys did not ascend to the chair’s role until late last year, he presided over the December ARLC meeting which voted full bonuses to Greenberg and his executive team following “an outstanding financial result.”

V’landys defends his board, particularly businessman Gary Weiss, whom he describes as a “one of the best board members in public companies and a most under-rated quiet achiever.” He praises Beattie who recognised the code’s problems of minimal assets and rising costs by forming a sub committee of influential club chairs to address it.

“The board sought reduction in expenses and held board-only meetings where concerns about rising costs were expressed,” V’landys said.

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Asked about the bonuses paid to management, V’landys admitted KPIs were met but were not weighted and said they had been re-set for this year.

The ARLC was formed to be truly independent, to free the game from the power of the media and the influence of NRL clubs.

The first two broadcast deals represented record financial rises, reflecting the fact that News Limited directors no longer sat on one side of the NRL board table, making a low-ball offer for broadcast rights and then slipping around the other side of the table to accept them.

However, over the past six months, the media, including Nine Entertainment Company, called for Greenberg’s sacking for a number of sins, including leaking to the media. The media complaining about a leaker!

The ARLC has also failed to withstand the power of the clubs who, having won a 130 per cent funding deal from Grant, then voted to oust him. The clubs also supported Greenberg’s exit, offended that he referred to them as “stakeholders”, rather than shareholders, an irony considering they operate during the shutdown only because of $100m in reserves.

V’landys points out that Andrew Abdo, the NRL’s chief commercial officer, “drove the revenue increase” which created the reserves and justified the bonuses. V’landys also defends Grant, saying, “He was poorly treated in my view.”

Interim NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo.

Interim NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo.Credit:AAP

“It is a very good board,” is V’landys’ summary of the ARLC.

Yet, to many in the game, two CEOs and a chairman have been rolled by the very forces the Commission was built to resist – media chiefs and NRL clubs.

Abdo is currently acting as interim CEO but there is an expectation an executive search won’t attract a high-quality candidate, given that two CEOs have been forced out the door and the commission is perceived to be jelly-backed under a dominant chair. Furthermore, pressure from NRL clubs to lower head office salaries will not make for an enticing package.

“Based on the approaches I have had from high-quality candidates, I don’t think that will be problem,” V’landys says.

Yet there are those who insist that with V’landys making the key decisions and the capable Abdo consigned to a chief of staff role, influential NRL club chairs will plead with V’landys do the job.

He can’t become executive chair because the ARLC constitution requires almost unanimity from 16 clubs and two states to change the role.

Furthermore, V’landys has repeatedly stated he believes in correct corporate governance, involving separation of executive and board.

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So, the only alternative would be for V’landys to surrender his position on the ARLC and be appointed CEO with a compliant chair and a dutiful board of directors.

V’landys rejects this scenario saying, “It’s not going to happen. I don’t need to be CEO or chair.”

Late last year, Racing NSW chair Russell Balding extended V’landys’ term by three years and sought NSW Government changes to extend his own tenure past the eight year maximum required of board members.

It promoted the theory that V’landys would seek a similar power structure at the ARLC, with one observer saying, “Place a bet now – PVL will be making the speech at the NRL Christmas party, not as Chairman but as CEO.”

“It won’t happen,” V’landys repeats.

His words and public persona are at odds with someone accused of unbridled ambition, arrogance and conceit.

Yet, being a busy ARLC chair as well as Racing NSW boss does suggest a Zeus-like character over-estimating his capabilities and risking the wrath of the heavens, creating his own downfall.

Asked if he has heard of another term from Greek tragedy – hubris – he jokes, “Isn’t he the bloke who runs the local fruit shop?”

But he quickly corrects himself, recognising his answer is hubristic.

“Yeah, I know what you mean”, he concedes, hinting that an excessive workload won’t be a problem if his ARLC role is short term.

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