Dispute over Suaalii mega-deal a factor in Rugby Australia CEO’s resignation

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A disagreement over the size of a record $1.6 million deal to secure code-switcher Joseph Suaalii, and the strategy of pursuing rugby league players in general, were key contributors to the strained relationship between outgoing Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos and chairman Hamish McLennan.

More insight into the tense relationship between Marinos and McLennan emerged as Rugby Australia engaged leading executive search firm Hattonneale to lead its recruitment process for a new chief executive, following Marinos’ resignation on Monday.

Former Wallabies captain and Rugby Australia director Phil Waugh is positioned as the leading internal candidate but contrary to speculation in rugby circles, the appointment has not already been made, with Waugh, who works for NAB, still undecided about his future.

Former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns, who missed out to Raelene Castle for the Rugby Australia CEO job in 2017, confirmed to this masthead he would not be applying for the vacancy, and former NRL chief executive David Gallop, who has been touted as possible contender, also ruled himself out.

McLennan paid tribute to Marinos’ 2½-year stint as chief executive in a release announcing the resignation on Monday.

Sources with knowledge of the pair’s uneasy relationship, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the game’s top two officials had not been aligned on a number of major matters, stretching back to last year.

RA chairman Hamish McLennan (left) and CEO Andy Marinos (right), in 2021. Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

One example cited was the much-hyped recruitment of Suaalii in March, when Rugby Australia signed the 19-year-old Roosters star on a three-year deal, from the end of 2024.

Informed sources said Marinos did not agree with RA’s aggressive pursuit of Suaalii, led by McLennan, and the massive amount of money that was ultimately outlaid to get the youngster’s signature. Rugby Australia has not revealed the figures, but the deal has been widely reported as $1.6 million a year.

Marinos, the sources said, did not share McLennan’s enthusiasm for chasing league players and argued the record Suaalii salary would inflate the market and subsequently force Rugby Australia to pay more to its other top-tier players.

According to sources familiar with the situation, McLennan grew frustrated with Marinos’ more conservative pace as chief executive on a number of issues, and with members of the Rugby Australia board also losing confidence, Marinos elected to move on.

The Roosters’ Joseph Suaalii signed with Rugby Australia in March.Credit: Getty Images

Both Marinos and McLennan declined to comment on Tuesday.

The pair are due to fly into Paris this week for World Rugby and SANZAAR talks, where they will represent Rugby Australia as a united front. Marinos is not due to finish with RA until mid-June, with Rugby Australia saying in its release the outgoing chief would stay “to assist with a transition period for the business”.

Recruitment firm Hattonneale were the consultants used by RA to appoint Marinos as chief executive at the end of 2020, to replace interim CEO Rob Clarke.

The next chief executive will be Rugby Australia’s fifth since the departure of John O’Neill in 2012, with Bill Pulver, Raelene Castle, Clarke and Marinos serving in the role.

Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos has quit.Credit: Getty

After announcing an $8.2 million surplus last week, McLennan said Rugby Australia would begin to engage in the process of striking a deal with a private equity firm.

Former Wallabies centre and Stan Sport pundit Morgan Turinui questioned whether the private equity deal may be factored into Rugby Australia’s search for a successor for Marinos.

“If they buy 20 per cent of the game… how much of a say do they get, do they get a couple of board members? Do they get a say in who the CEO is? How will that affect the timing?” Turinui said on the Between Two Posts podcast.

Turinui said the success of winning the hosting rights for the 2027 and 2029 Rugby World Cups, and Rugby Australia surviving the existential threat of COVID, were highlights of the Marinos’ era.

“There’s a lot of positives to Andy Marinos’ time,” Turinui said.

The Waratahs, meanwhile, will again be without Wallabies lock Ned Hanigan for their clash with the Reds in Townsville on Saturday.

Hanigan suffered a concussion against the Force and after several head knocks last year, coaches are taking a cautious approach by sitting him out for a third week.

The Waratahs are otherwise healthy, and focussing on winning consecutive games for the first time this year.

“It would be nice to go back to back,” hooker Dave Porecki said.

“Once you hit finals, you can’t go one on, one off. So we’re looking forward to a good performance this weekend against a quality outfit at their home. It’s going to be tough.

“They’re coming off a good performance as well. Their back row is pretty strong, they work together as a team, they work hard for each other, have a good defensive system, so it’s a challenge for us.

“But what better way to bind a group than having a tough challenge like this away from home.”

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