NRL 2022: Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis slams government backflip on stadium deal

Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis says rugby league has been “shafted” by the NSW government reneging on the stadium deal, which included a crucial upgrade for Leichhardt Oval.

Dominic Perrottet was a regular at Leichhardt Oval before he became premier but he may not be welcome back any time soon as his refusal to fund the club’s spiritual home prompts a backlash from officials and fans.

Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis has been among the most vocal critics of the government’s backflip and while he refused to single out Perrottet — a renowned Tigers fan — he made no attempt to hide his feelings on Wednesday.

“I think he has shafted the rugby league and the broader community in general by reneging on this deal he has with Peter V’landys and the NRL,” Hagipantelis said.

“The government is trying to pigeon hole these as NRL stadiums, but they are not — they are community stadiums. These are elite sporting stadiums for the community.”

Asked what sort of reception Perrottet could expect next time he attends a game at Leichhardt Oval, Hagipantelis said: “I can’t speak for the fans and members. As far as the club is concerned, I don’t think we should say anything different to him other than what we have said in public.

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NSW premier Dominic Perrottet is a mad Wests Tigers fan. Picture: Mark Evans
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet is a mad Wests Tigers fan. Picture: Mark Evans

“We have made our displeasure well known. He would be aware of it. As a club, we have sat down and formulated a stadium strategy for the next five or 10 years predicated on Leichhardt Oval being upgraded.

“The facilities at Leichhardt are third world, bordering on dangerous. He has attended Leichhardt on many occasions. He would be aware of it.”

Rugby league’s stadium war shows no signs of abating as the NRL and state government lock horns over broken promises and brutal backflips that could yet send the two parties to court.

It is understood the parties remain locked in talks in the background and have not given up hope of reaching a compromise.

Should they fail to find a resolution, V’landys and the commission have reserved the right to take legal action based on their previous memorandum of understanding.

While that fight continues, the clubs affected continue to lick their wounds.

South Sydney entered the debate on Wednesday, insisting they should be allowed to move back to Moore Park if there was no money spent on Accor Stadium.

The Rabbitohs were hoping to get the green light to return to Moore Park as part of the current negotiations. When those talks stalled, the Rabbitohs’ dream of returning home did as well.

Leichhardt Oval has been flagged for a much-needed stadium upgrade. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos
Leichhardt Oval has been flagged for a much-needed stadium upgrade. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“It has been almost a decade of discussions and MOU’s for Stadium funding in Sydney, and we have been patient in waiting for investment into Accor Stadium,” Rabbitohs chief executive Blake Solly said.

“It is clear from the Government’s announcement this week that there will be no investment. Our position has been very clear — without that investment we should be able to move to Allianz Stadium for home games.

“This should be a very simple position for the NSW Government and the NRL to agree upon. The NSW government have invested $800 million into a Stadium in our traditional heartland and we want to play in it.

“Surely that represents true value to the taxpayers of NSW now that there will be no investment into Accor Stadium. We implore the NSW government and NRL to get this position agreed as soon as possible.”

Meantime, Manly chair Scott Penn has vowed to not rest until the NSW government makes good on plans to commit $150 million to the development of 4 Pines Perk, insisting the people on Sydney’s northern beaches have been ignored for too long.

The Sea Eagles home on Sydney’s northern beaches was among the stadiums expected to benefit from the state government’s largesse but those plans are now on hold.

Manly chair Scott Penn will keep fighting for the money proposed by the state government to upgrade 4 Pines Park. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Manly chair Scott Penn will keep fighting for the money proposed by the state government to upgrade 4 Pines Park. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Penn has vowed to maintain the rage until the club gets the money it needs to fix its home, at the same time questioning why Penrith should receive $300 million for a new ground while the rugby league’s home on Sydney’s northern beaches continues to grow old and weary.

“It’s not right,” Penn said.

“That’s just the simple facts of the matter. We need to be upgrading suburban grounds. If Penrith is getting upgraded and it is technically a suburban home ground, the other suburban grounds should get the same.

“We already have the Centre of Excellence but we need another $150 million to do the rest of the job. That’s what we’re expecting.

“We’re not going to stop until we get it.”

Penn insisted that new builds at Moore Park and Penrith meant the competition was no longer a level playing field.

“You have the Roosters playing out of Allianz (Stadium), which is going to be a major factor,” Penn said. “They’re going to have 40,000 seats to sell to their members. It’s got to be a level playing field. We need the same in our backyard.

“We’re not asking for a billion-dollar stadium. The people of the northern beaches have been disregarded for too long.

“It’s time to stand up.”

The Sea Eagles need another $150m to upgrade their home ground at Brookvale. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The Sea Eagles need another $150m to upgrade their home ground at Brookvale. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Clubs left in limbo in stadium battle

-Brent Read, David Riccio

NRL club bosses have condemned the NSW government and their ailing stadium strategy after a day of fraught negotiations between ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys and premier Dominic Perrotet left promised upgrades to their home grounds in limbo.

Cronulla, the Wests Tigers and Manly were all due to receive a slice of state government funds as part of the strategy to renovate and reinvigorate suburban grounds, a plan that was largely driven by V’landys.

However, that agreement was in jeopardy of collapse on Tuesday night as the ARL Commission began taking legal advice over their inability to gain an iron-clad commitment from the state government.

South Sydney also stand to lose out as a result of the impasse — they had hoped to move back to Moore Park as part of the agreement but may be forced to remain at Accor Stadium.

Significantly, the state government has already pledged to spend $300 million to build a stadium at Penrith, which sits in the electorate of deputy premier Stuart Ayres.

Queensland could poach the NRL grand final from Sydney, after hosting the 2021 decider at Suncorp Stadium. Picture: Josh Woning
Queensland could poach the NRL grand final from Sydney, after hosting the 2021 decider at Suncorp Stadium. Picture: Josh Woning

“So Stuart Ayres still gets (a stadium in) his electorate but everyone else misses out,” Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis said.

“I would be bitterly disappointed if the government reneges on the commitment that was made. The state government stadia policy has been an embarrassment from the beginning.

“A complete mess. They have spent almost $1 billion on Moore Park for a 42,000-seat stadium — that defies belief.

“Leichhardt [Oval] was supposed to get looked after and we have been putting together a compelling argument for a stadium in the south-west of Sydney as well.

“The suburban stadium policy promulgated by Peter V’landys I think is the right one. Absolutely the right one

“Ours is a tribal game, people want to follow the team that represents their geographic district, but also want to support them in their geographic district.

“People don’t want to travel long distances to support their team at a home game. We would be bitterly disappointed if the government reneged on the commitment they made.

“We are absolutely concerned.”

Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis has voiced his concerns over the government’s call.
Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis has voiced his concerns over the government’s call.

Hagipantelis’ worry was matched at Cronulla and Manly, who were expected to receive around $100 million each as part of the stadium agreement. Both clubs have craved upgrades to their home grounds for years — the Sharks are unable to host finals games because their facilities are not up to scratch.

“I think we have done more than enough to demonstrate why a ground like Shark Park is worthy of a Centre of Excellence and stadium upgrade,” Sharks chief executive Dino Mezzatesta said.

“The NRL is very supportive and we have shown the government we deserve it — we are No.1 in female participation, No.1 in Oztag, No.1 in touch, No.2 in junior representation for rugby league.

“If you talk about other sports, we have been No.1 in soccer for decades and the amount of work we do in the community — using our asset — is far greater than any other club,

“How can they continue to ignore us? The millions and millions we have put into pathways over the years and nurturing the sport..... why would we be overlooked?”

Manly chair Scott Penn added: “I think we are the most logical next (stop). For Penrith to get $300 million and us to get nothing would be ridiculous.

“That just wouldn’t be right. If we’re committed to playing all our home games here we need a venue that befits a modern rugby league club.

“We’re totally committed to that.”

The Sharks were due to receive a slice of the state government’s stadium stragey pla. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
The Sharks were due to receive a slice of the state government’s stadium stragey pla. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

How the stadium drama unfolded ...

Sydney could lose the NRL grand final to Queensland by the end of the day unless the NSW Government delivers on its promise to upgrade suburban stadiums.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys met with Premier Dominic Perrottet on Monday night to seek reassurances that the deal to revamp the stadiums would be honoured.

Afterwards Mr V’landys said: “We are still in negotiation and we are waiting for a response to our letter today.”

But privately he is believed to be fuming after the pair met in May and, following a “robust” discussion, shook hands on a deal to spend $800 million upgrading the stadiums.

The deal was to deliver at least four upgraded suburban stadiums with Brookvale Oval, Leichhardt Oval, Penrith Stadium and Shark Park in Cronulla the likely beneficiaries. Rubber stamping the deal would guarantee the NRL grand final staying in Sydney until 2042.

But that appears to have been put in doubt on Monday night.

V’landys left the door ajar for Suncorp Stadium to host a second consecutive NRL grand final if he cannot strike a deal with the NSW government.

The Queensland government came to the rescue of the NRL last year when the code was forced to relocate due to the Covid crisis in Sydney.

“We are in delicate negotiations with the NSW government,” V’landys said. “All options will be on the table if these negotiations fail.”

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is open minded about the possibility of Suncorp hosting another NRL grand final.“If the NRL wants to talk we are always happy to listen,” she said.

The only stadium that has been given the green light for a $300 million upgrade is Penrith — in the electorate of under-fire sports minister Stuart Ayres.

A move has also been made to compulsorily acquire the Penrith Paceway to build the new stadium rather than rebuild on the current site.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys met with Premier Dominic Perrottet on Monday night to seek reassurances over the stadium deal. Picture: Getty Images
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys met with Premier Dominic Perrottet on Monday night to seek reassurances over the stadium deal. Picture: Getty Images

John Dumesny, chief executive of Harness Racing NSW, said the move was baffling.

“Why can’t they build a new stadium on their present site and leave everyone happy?” he said.

Mr Ayres told Ben Fordham on 2GB that no decision had been made on the other stadiums and that “the Premier is continuing to engage directly with the NRL, these are ongoing discussions.”

But he admitted there were budget limitations that could push out the deadline on stadium upgrades. “We have been really clear with the NRL about the limitations that exist on our budget,” he said.

Mr Ayres pointed to investment in stadiums including the new Sydney Football Stadium.

“We have invested well in excess of $1.5 billion. Part of that is to say that we would like to have a long-term commitment from the NRL for the grand final.

“I think there comes a point where you have got to say we have invested enough in that sporting infrastructure and when we have got the capacity to invest in more sporting infrastructure in the future there is no reason why we won’t do that,” he said.

Ayres was taken to task by Fordham on Tuesday for his refusal to declare whether funding for upgrades to Brookvale Oval, Shark Park and Leichhardt Oval would go ahead.

The NRL’s suburban ground strategy was born from a previous agreement with the State Government to rebuild Accor Stadium, Allianz Stadium and Commbank Stadium.

Stuart Ayres has refused to declare wether funding for upgrades to Leichhardt Oval and other suburban grounds would go ahead. Picture: Getty Images
Stuart Ayres has refused to declare wether funding for upgrades to Leichhardt Oval and other suburban grounds would go ahead. Picture: Getty Images

In return, the NRL would keep the grand final in Sydney until 2042.

The $800 million Accor upgrade was scrapped during the coronavirus pandemic.

The NRL believed based on discussions with the government that this money would be allocated to suburban grounds at Brookvale, Shark Park and Leichhardt Oval.

Discussions between the NRL and Premier Dominic Perrottet took place on Monday.

But it’s understood the suburban grounds are now unlikely to take place.

“Ben, I think it’s really important that we continue to remind everyone that our government has invested substantially,” Ayres told Fordham.

Fordham then interjected staying, “No, no, you’re the Sports Minister, your home ground is Penrith, you’re a Panthers fan and for all I know you’re probably the number one ticket holder.

“So they got the $300 million, so what about Brookvale, Shark Park, Leichhardt Oval ... I would be seriously surprised if you don’t know the answer I am posing to you.

“Why did your home ground get the money at your home ground and the others didn’t?

“Why don’t we just tell the listeners now, those other grounds aren’t getting their redevelopments?”

NSW sports Minister Stuart Ayres. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper
NSW sports Minister Stuart Ayres. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

Ayres replied: “Ben, there’s a long-term strategy.

“We made decisions in what was the best interests of the public.

“We’ve had a long-term stadia strategy that we’ve been delivering since 2015.

“We’ve rebuilt Parramatta Stadium, we’re just about to open the new Sydney Football stadium.

“We’re committed to a stadium in Penrith, it reflects our three city strategy.

“We’ve invested well in excess of $1.5b dollars, part of that is, we’d like to have a long-term commitment from the NRL for the grand final.

“I think there comes a point when you say we’ve invested enough in sporting infrastructure and when we’ve got the capacity to invest in sporting infrastructure in the future, there’s no reason we won’t do that.

“But we’ve always got competing priorities. We’ve just had Covid, we’ve had substantial flood impacts that have put more pressure on the budget.”

As a result of the development, the Queensland Government are armed and ready to prise the grand final from Sydney.

An NRL spokesperson said the game hadn’t given up on acquiring the funding for suburban grounds and that discussions with the NSW government were on-going.

Originally published as NRL 2022: Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis slams government backflip on stadium deal

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