White knight could save Balmain Tigers

Needs work: The old Balmain Leagues Club site at Rozelle. Photo: Danielle Smith
Needs work: The old Balmain Leagues Club site at Rozelle. Photo: Danielle Smith

A mystery white knight has emerged with a proposal to redevelop the old Balmain Leagues Club site in a move that could secure the future of the foundation club.

Mediation talks between property developer Rozelle Village and Balmain were held in the offices of a Sydney law firm on Wednesday and will resume on Thursday. A new property developer has emerged with a plan for the Victoria Road headquarters and is prepared to buy out the current developer, Rozelle Village, whose sole director is Ian Wright.

The Leagues Club owes Rozelle Village about $8 million and allegedly defaulted on a series of loans, with the matter ending up in the Supreme Court. The auditors were about to be called in, but an injunction was granted in the hope the parties could come to an arrangement.

There are hopes that could be resolved as soon as Thursday after the parties were locked in discussions the previous day.

"It's really positive that there's a positive discussion between the parties and everyone is looking for a positive solution," said Balmain Leagues Club spokesman Danny Munk.

While the details of the new developer are a closely guarded secret, it is understood he is a builder who lives in the local area and is passionate about the project going ahead. His offer, seemingly the last roll of the dice for Balmain, is worth tens of millions of dollars.

Dawn Fraser, the former Australian Olympian who has spent years as a director on the Balmain and Wests Tigers boards, hoped the matter would finally be resolved.

"I know there's an offer on the table for him and I was hoping [Wright] will accept that," Fraser said.

"At the moment, he's putting the leagues club into bad circumstances. He's also affecting the 108-year-old football club we are directors of. We just hope with mediation today he might see fit to do the right thing by us and himself to take the offer on the table."

Wests Tigers chief executive Grant Mayer has previously stated the joint-venture club is "not at risk" as a result of the drama at Balmain. However, there are implications for the foundation club, which hasn't been able to meet its financial obligations, prompting the NRL to step in.

Under an arrangement brokered by rugby league's governing body, the NRL will cover the shortfall of the cash-strapped Balmain side for the next two years. If they are unable to square the ledger in that time, they face losing their shares in the joint venture.

The new proposal could potentially prevent that from happening and could raise the prospect of Balmain directors being given voting rights in future years.

"We're not financial now," Fraser said. "We can't pay our dues and the NRL have had to come in and help out Wests Tigers, which is a bit unfortunate.

"At no stage do we want to be in a position to let the Tigers down."

The latest plans submitted for high-rise buildings at Rozelle Village were rejected by an independent planning authority last month.

The two-tower proposal was to include space leased by the leagues club. It is understood the latest proposal from the new developer would significantly bring down the height.

Wright has previously stated his belief there needs to be a development on that site but, after five years without one on land he owned, would not be pressured into any decision.

This story White knight could save Balmain Tigers first appeared on Brisbane Times.