Ironically, it was a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange wine from former Tigers chairman Nick Di Girolamo that brought an end to O’Farrell’s stint as NSW premier. If he ends up taking the Tigers’ top job, O’Farrell will join ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie as the second ex-premier in rugby league’s corridors of power.
The newly elected board member won’t automatically become the new chair, which was expected to come from the Wests side of the merger. While O’Farrell is considered a ‘Balmain man’, it’s understood that is unlikely to count against him becoming chair and that he would have the requisite numbers if he replaced Go as a director.
The Racing Australia chief executive will need to call upon all of his considerable political nous as the club prepares to make some big calls on its ownership structure.
Balmain has not been able to financially contribute to Wests Tigers, missing a recent repayment deadline after the embattled Balmain Leagues Club fell into voluntary administration late last year. Wests Ashfield is tipped to acquire Balmain’s 25 per cent share of the joint-venture outfit if Balmain defaults and its stake goes up for sale. O’Farrell is viewed as a statesman who can sensitively navigate Wests Tigers through the issues to ensure the best possible outcome for all parties.
O’Farrell already has extensive board experience, having served as a director for Diabetes Australia, Obesity Australia and the Royal Flying Doctor Service South East Section. However, a position with Wests Tigers would be his highest-profile directorship yet.
Tigers officials are craving an era of stability after a period of uncertainty at Concord. There have been three coaches – Jason Taylor, Ivan Cleary and Michael Maguire – in as many seasons overseeing a team that hasn’t made the finals since 2011. Wests Ashfield boss Simon Cook is currently acting chief executive until Pascoe is permitted to return to work on June 19.
There will also be a turnover in playing staff with legendary playmakers Benji Marshall and Farah likely to retire at season’s end. Maguire has been agonising over his choice for the No.6 jersey and it’s understood Marshall has got the nod for the season opener against Manly at Leichhardt Oval.
Save for Chris Lawrence, who is out with a broken jaw, Maguire will have his entire squad to choose from for round one. Josh Reynolds, Corey Thompson, Matt Eisenhuth, Josh Aloiai and Robbie Rochow all made successful returns from off-season surgery in the trial against the Warriors, while absentees Paul Momirovski and Elijah Taylor are available for selection after overcoming injury niggles.