As Barry O’Farrell conducted his first interview after taking on his dream role of Wests Tigers chairman, it was inevitable that he would be asked whether he could work with ARLC chairman Peter Beattie.
After all, Beattie is a former Queensland Labor premier and O’Farrell is a former NSW Liberal premier who, coincidentally, resigned in 2014 after mistakenly denying at an ICAC hearing that he had received a bottle of Grange Hermitage from former Wests Tigers chairman Nick Di Girolamo three years earlier.
O’Farrell even addressed that during a wide-ranging media conference in which he spoke of his passion for the Tigers, excitement with the financial position he has inherited and desire to help the club and new coach Michael Maguire repeat the premiership success of 2005.
Asked if he would celebrate his appointment with a glass of red, O’Farrell said “red Gatorade, absolutely”.
A former North Sydney supporter whose dislike of Saturday night’s opening round opponents, Manly, led to him to follow Wests Tigers, O’Farrell said he had always wanted to be involved with the club but had never been approached until Marina Go’s decision to stand down from the board.
“I once said to [former ARLC chairman] John Grant that there was a similarity between his job and the job as premier of the state, and that was that everyone was vitally interested at times in what you were doing and everybody was absolutely convinced that they could do it better,” O’Farrell said.
“I have been one of those fans from time to time who has shared those feelings so now I get a chance to put up or shut up.”
However, he spoke in support of Beattie’s leadership and went out of his way to offer backing to the NRL’s new “no fault stand down” policy.
“What you learn in politics is that the important things aren’t the personalities, it’s what you achieve and what you want to achieve,” O’Farrell said. “I can work with Peter Beattie and clearly we have to work with Peter Beattie, we are part of the NRL.
“I have no doubt that every club understands the responsibility for on and off field behaviour rests with them. I absolutely support the NRL with the introduction of the stand down rule for those players who have been charged with serious offences.
“I want to ensure that we have the best behaviour on and off the field, we have a great coach who is leading the club culture and we just need to support the NRL.”
Asked about the NRL’s refusal to register a contract for Tigers recruit Zane Musgrove while he is defending an indecent assault charge, O’Farrell said: “That’s their decision and we respect their decision. We will behave responsibly financially and abide by the NRL’s rules and policies”.
For the first time since Wests Tigers were formed as a joint venture between Balmain Tigers and Wests Magpies in 1999, the club is poised to announce a profit.
The Tigers have also surpassed their previous highest membership for the third consecutive season, despite not having played in the NRL finals series since 2011.
“One of the greatest experiences of my life was being able to witness at ANZ Stadium the Wests Tigers grand final victory in 2005 and I can think of no experience that would be better than that other than to be personally involved with the club and going on to assist them to win that next premiership,” O’Farrell said.
“It is the first time I have been approached about the role and I wasn’t going to let it go past.”
Maguire said strong leadership was vital to the success of any club and praised Go for her role in helping to turn the Tigers around.
“The club has shifted in a big way over the last couple of years under the current leadership so I am looking forward to progressing on that and taking them to new heights,” Maguire said.
“When I first joined the club I went through where they are at, what they need to do and the club itself is in really good shape and now it is about everyone involved taking that forward and making sure we go to somewhere they haven’t been for a long time.”
Maguire named his first side for the Manly clash at Leichhardt Oval, with captain and fullback Moses Mbye, second-rower Chris Lawrence and winger David Nofoaluma the notable absentees while former NSW Origin five-eighth Josh Reynolds is unlikely to be included in the 17-man squad who take the field on Saturday.
Mbye is recovering from a knee injury and was restricted during a trial match against Canberra, Nofoaluma has a shoulder injury, Lawrence has undergone facial surgery and Reynolds has had a disrupted pre-season so Maguire wants him to build game time in the NSWRL’s Canterbury Cup competition.
“He just needs to get back and play,” Maguire said. “He has had a bumpy two years with injuries and I can see he is going to grow as we go through the season. It is just about playing for Josh and I want to see him go and enjoy his footy again.”
Benji Marshall, who O’Farrell nominated as his all-time favourite Wests Tigers player, will captain the team in Mbye’s absence.