From the CEO’s Office

Greetings Eels fans!

I have been in the CEO role for a few months now and I wanted to give you a New Year update of what is happening here at Eels Headquarters.

Firstly, I wish to express my condolences to the family and friends of Chad Robinson. I knew Chad and he was an outstanding young man. Chad was a great teammate and valuable contributor to the Parramatta and Roosters teams in which he played. The funeral service on Tuesday 10 January was a wonderful tribute to Chad’s life. Chad will be missed by all who knew him.

Our Club:

We understand the impact to the Parramatta Eels Rugby League Club that the problems and dramas have caused over the last few years. The rebuilding of our Club commenced well before I arrived, with the excellent contributions and guidance from Max Donnelly, Jim Sarantinos and Steve Sherman (our Directors from Ferrier Hodgson) from mid-2016 plus the efforts of our loyal staff. I would also like to recognise our colleagues from the Parramatta Leagues Club (PLC) for their on-going support of our Parramatta Eels Rugby League Club, particularly during the 2016 issues – thanks to PLC CEO, Bevan Paul, and his PLC team.

We needed to determine “What type of Club do we want to be?”

The Parramatta Eels National Rugby League Club will be a successful, first-class sports organisation, with all decisions and behaviours consistent with our core Values of:

·       Integrity

·       Respect

·       Excellence

This is a journey and will take some time and we are committed to “getting it right” internally so that we can build a strong, long-term foundation for our Club.

The first steps:

A.    Governance

Our Chairman, Max Donnelly, and his fellow Board Directors have been working diligently to enact constitutional reform, with the principal objective of delivering a high quality Board of Directors, comprising:

o   2 Directors from the Parramatta Leagues Club (the 100% owner of the Parramatta Eels); and

o   5 independent Directors, with a detailed skills matrix determining the suitability of these independent Directors to provide meaningful contributions to our Club.

The nominations process to select the 5 independent Directors has commenced, with the applications deadline having now passed on Monday 5 December. The intention is to have the new Board of Parramatta National Rugby League Club Pty Limited appointed prior to Round 1 of the 2017 season.

B.     Management: Professional & Ethical

We are committed to providing professional and ethical management for the Parramatta Eels. We intend to be a people-focused Club, operating within an optimum organisation structure, with all our decisions and behaviours governed by our core Values.

We realise that we need to rebuild the trust of our Members, Fans & Sponsors and a consistent message I have been hearing from fans is that we all want stability:   “1 Parramatta”, a united Parramatta”.

Football Program:

I am very happy with where our Football Program is at the present time. Brad Arthur and his coaching & support staff have been working hard over the off-season with our playing squad. We feel that we have improved the depth of our squad and that a number of our players have room for exciting development.

I am also pleased with our Club’s focus on elite junior development, principally through the National Youth Cup (Under 20’s), SG Ball (Under 18) and Harold Matthews (Under 16) squads – these are our future Parramatta Eels NRL players. We are focused on ensuring all the local Parramatta Eels juniors are provided the opportunity to be identified for our elite junior development programs.

Semi Radradra:

As announced a few days ago, the Parramatta Eels Rugby League Club has been advised by George Christodoulou, the manager of Semi Radradra, that Semi has accepted an offer to play rugby union for the Toulon Rugby Club for the 2017/2018 European rugby season, with an option for a second year being the 2018/2019 season. This option for the second season is in favour of Semi Radradra. The European rugby season operates from approximately August through May.

Semi has a court appearance on 13 February 2017. As advised previously to Semi and his manager, Semi will fulfil his 2017 Playing Contract with the Parramatta Eels as the Club will not release Semi from his 2017 obligations to our Club; accordingly, the earliest Semi could commence at Toulon is early November 2017.

In early December 2016 the Parramatta Eels indicated our wish to keep Semi at our Club by making a very attractive offer to Semi for the 2017 (upgrade of existing contract), 2018 & 2019 NRL seasons.

The offer from Toulon was substantially higher than our Club’s offer. We look forward to Semi being a most productive member of the 2017 Parramatta Eels playing squad and then we wish Semi well in his rugby union venture with Toulon.

The reality is that it is extremely difficult for NRL clubs to compete with the money on offer from European rugby union. This situation does not eventuate that often and so it is my opinion that our NRL game should not upend the rules and guidelines of our Salary Cap to accommodate these “one-off” situations. The long-term financial sustainability of our game and our clubs is a more important priority.

As a final point, I am very comfortable that our Club allowed Semi compassionate leave to visit his father in Fiji in November. We owe all our players and staff a high level of care and compassion - family comes first.

Kenny Edwards:

The allegation against Kenny Edwards is a legal matter and our Club respects the legal process. The charges are extremely serious and it is not appropriate for our Club to make any further comment. The next court hearing is expected to be in late February.

Vai Toutai:

Following a request from his management, our Club has agreed to release Vai Toutai from his contract. Vai was involved in an unsavoury incident that was thoroughly investigated by our Club. It is worth noting that, in the interests of complete transparency, our Club advised the NRL’s Integrity Unit immediately and kept them up-to-date during the entire process. The NRL Integrity Unit were in agreeance with the final outcome.

It is important to place some perspective around these situations and remember that we are dealing with young men and their families, with many complicated background issues often involved. While we make no comment regarding the potential outcomes of these cases, our Club continues to provide a high level of welfare to both our players, their partners and families. I have been very impressed with the quality welfare programs our Club has in place. Our Club has 3 fulltime staff members committed to leadership and welfare programs with our players.

New Contracts:

We are very pleased that Tim Mannah, a wonderful Eels clubman, has re-signed for 2017, 2018 & 2019. Tim’s playing performance and leadership are invaluable to our Club.

In addition, Clint Gutherson has also re-signed for the 2017, 2018 & 2019 season – great news. Clint has been one of our very best performers in pre-season training.

Salary Cap:

Our Salary Cap has been cleaned up over the last 6 months, with particular thanks to Jim Sarantinos, our Director from Ferrier Hodgson, Nikky Van Der Meer, our Club’s Chief Financial Officer, and Linda Mittiga, our Football Accountant. I am pleased to report that our Club is under the Salary Cap for NRL season 2017.

Commercial Partners:

We recognise that our “Parramatta Eels” brand has been damaged in recent years – it would be unrealistic not to realise this. This is particularly relevant in the corporate community, especially at a time when we are searching for a new Major Sponsor. Having said that, we are extremely optimistic about our future! We genuinely believe that the “new Parramatta” has a unique and compelling proposition to commercial partners here in western Sydney. The Parramatta Eels are still the clear “number 1” professional sports organisation in western Sydney by any metric and, with the Parramatta city being the economic hub of the exciting infrastructural development in western Sydney, we know that the Parramatta Eels are the ideal commercial partner for companies wishing to promote their businesses.

We are working diligently to secure a new Major Sponsor but it needs to be the right major Sponsor for our Parramatta Eels Club and so this process may take some time. We need to form a legitimate partnership with a reputable, strong company.

Western Sydney Stadium:

Furthermore, it was very exciting to hear the formal announcement from NSW Premier, Mike Baird, that the new Western Sydney Stadium is to be a reality. The demolition of our Parramatta Stadium will commence in January 2017 but, from the long term perspective, it is wonderful to know that our Parramatta Eels fans will be coming home in 2019 to the absolute best rectangular sports stadium in Australia. Combined with the $130 million developments at Parramatta Leagues Club, we will have a fantastic entertainment precinct. The game day experience at our new home will be awesome!

Membership:

I am pleased to report that our Membership numbers are well ahead of last year at the same time: we have 15,006 fantastic Members this year vs 12,201 last year, a 23% increase! Our fans are demonstrating their true passion for the mighty Eels! Membership with Game Tickets is the best way for you to support our great Club, while simultaneously securing your place at the front of the queue for seating at our new home at the brilliant Western Sydney Stadium in 2019.

There are still great seats available at ANZ Stadium.

Visit parraeels.com.au/membership.

Junior League:

The Parramatta Junior Rugby League has 22 clubs working diligently to provide fun playing opportunities for over 5,500 young kids. We value the outstanding contributions of the wonderful volunteers of all our Junior League clubs.

Community:

The Parramatta Eels have had our share of problems and issues in recent years but, in my short time here, I have been witness to what I believe is the “real Parramatta Eels”.

Please allow me to provide some perspective with recent examples of our Club’s community involvement …….

In December I was honoured to attend the Christmas Party at the Ronald McDonald House at Westmead Children’s Hospital. Our First Grade squad was in attendance plus Head Coach, Brad Arthur, and some Coaching, Support & Office Staff. I could not have been more proud of our Club as I witnessed our Players interacting with the kids, signing their Eels jerseys and conversing with their families. I even saw the Head Coach assisting Denis “Big D” Anderson with the BBQ!

Then, in mid-December, our National Youth Cup (Under 20’s) squad responded quickly to a call for assistance from the “Giant Steps” organisation which works with kids with autism and their families. The mighty Eels have developed a partnership with Giant Steps through Dean Feeney's Teacher Aide program (Dean is our Player Education & Welfare Officer). When Dean told Luke Burt (NYC Coach) of the need for help at Giant Steps, the NYC Players were contacted and all but one, who had already left to travel home for Christmas, rolled-up on short notice at 7.30 on Saturday morning for a five hour working bee to prepare for the installation of a new playground for the kids upon their return from Christmas. Our NYC Players did a sterling job dismantling equipment, digging holes and moving large sandstone blocks to clear and prepare the area. All done with a smile on their faces that will be reflected by the kids when they return to their new facility!

70th Anniversary: 1947 to 2017:

The 2017 season represents the 70th Anniversary of our Club. While we are focused on the future, we will also be celebrating our past and the outstanding contributions of so many great people to the Parramatta Eels.

I am privileged to be the Chief Executive Officer of our Club. I am extremely appreciative of the warm welcome I have received from everybody here at the Parramatta Eels, including the many fans I have met. There are many outstanding people involved in our Parramatta Eels Club and there is a real sense of commitment from the entire organisation – Players, Coaching & Support Staff, Front Office Staff and Directors – to work diligently to produce a Club of which our wonderful fans can be proud.

Bernie Gurr

Chief Executive Officer

Parramatta Eels Rugby League Club