NRL 2022: NSWRL, ARL Commission court battle over for now after controversial elections

The legal battle for control of the NSW Blues is over after the Supreme Court handed down their judgment over the controversial NSWRL board elections.

The battle for the control of the all-conquering NSW State of Origin side is over but the war continues to simmer. The NSW Supreme Court on Friday morning handed down their judgment over the controversial NSWRL board elections, declaring that Cronulla chief executive Dino Mezzatesta was wrongly excluded but ruling that fresh elections were not necessary.

Justice Michael Ball also found that the NSWRL had not breached its services agreement and therefore the ARL Commission had no right to terminate it, a decision that ensured the Blues remained in state body’s hands.

However, Justice Ball found that the commission retained discretionary power over funding – they have withheld more than $1.7 million that was due to be paid to the NSWRL as part of their monthly payments.

The ARL Commission is weighing up an appeal, which would mean more lawyers and legal bills for both sides. In the meantime, they are unlikely to make their monthly payment to the NSWRL and the relationship between the two bodies remains fractious.

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The ARL Commission had threatened to takeover the NSW State of Origin side, but the Supreme Court has ruled that out. Picture: Getty Images.
The ARL Commission had threatened to takeover the NSW State of Origin side, but the Supreme Court has ruled that out. Picture: Getty Images.

The commission want the elections re-run but the NSWRL gave no indication that they would do so in a statement released after the verdict was handed down. They also called for a meeting with the commission as soon as it can arranged.

“While it is a matter of regret for us that we were forced to go to court to resolve the issue, we are pleased that the court has decided the matter in our favour, and agreed with the NSWRL’s submissions that we have not breached the agreement relating to our State of Origin obligations,” acting NSWRL chair John Anderson said.

“We were left with no other option but to approach the court when such an important component of our existence was under direct threat, and where the ARLC refused to withdraw its notice asserting that the ARLC would terminate the agreement unless the NSWRL took a series of specified steps.

“We can now continue our State of Origin preparations in earnest without the threat of removal from the contest hanging over our heads.

“We hope that we will now be able to put this behind us and work together with all stakeholders for the benefit of rugby league in NSW. The board will now move to fill the casual vacancy which presently exists for a metropolitan director and will thereafter commence a process to appoint a chair.

“In the interests of moving forward together our board seeks to meet with the full board of the ARLC as soon as it can be arranged.”

The Supereme Court ruled the NSWRL were wrong to exclude Dino Mezzatesta from elections, but that another election was not necessary. Picture: AAP.
The Supereme Court ruled the NSWRL were wrong to exclude Dino Mezzatesta from elections, but that another election was not necessary. Picture: AAP.

Mezzatesta was prevented from running for the NSW board after they received legal advice that he was conflicted due to his position as chief executive of the Sharks.

That decision led Sydney Roosters supremo Nick Politis and respected official doctor George Peponis to walk away from the NSWRL, and prompted the commission to intervene with the support of the NSW clubs.

The commission called in high-profile lawyer Bret Walker SC to act on their behalf and the dispute eventually found its way to court, costing the game money that could have been better directed to grassroots.

 V’landys gave no indication that the commission would back down when he spoke to News Corp on Friday.

“The court has found that he (Mezzatesta) should not be disqualified,” ARLC air Peter V’landys said.

“We can’t see how by disqualifying him when they shouldn’t have done, that it doesn’t invalidate the election. We still say to them that they can avoid all this by holding a fresh election. What the court has found is what we have said from day one – they should not have disqualified him.

“That is the bottom line. We’ll give them another opportunity to do what we have asked them from the beginning.”

“The Commission received a complaint from multiple clubs that Dino should not have been disqualified from the board elections. We acted on that complaint and the court has found today that Dino should not have been disqualified

“What today’s outcome shows is that the whole case was a waste of money that should be being spent on country and junior rugby league.

“For NSWRL to say the verdict is in its favour misstates the outcome and shows a lack of understanding of the full judgment provided. Dino should never have been disqualified. The Commission’s view remains that this is a serious error by the board of NSWRL and management and that error has been confirmed by the court.”

Originally published as NRL 2022: NSWRL, ARL Commission court battle over for now after controversial elections