There was always little chance that Wests Tigers chair Lee Hagipantelis would go quietly after being spectacularly ditched from the club’s board yesterday.
The fedora-wearing lawyer, who is also the club’s major sponsor through his role as Principal at Bryden’s Lawyers, has fired back at the Holman Barnes Group (HBG) that controls the club with two lengthy interviews in both the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph, outlining his anger at the day of boardroom bloodletting.
Hagipantelis and his ally, CEO Justin Pascoe, were the headline outs as the club dismissed its entire board, with former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and ex-Souths boss Shane Richardson coming into their roles.
The dismissals were part of a sweeping review into the club that has been undertaken as a result of continued poor performances, with Hagipantelis angered that the review took place at all.
“I think the process was disgraceful,” said the former chair in the SMH.
“The entire thing was a knee-jerk reaction to a petition signed by 2000 disgruntled fans after the Wests Tigers lost 74-0 to the Cowboys.
“It’s perfectly understandable that our fans would vent their displeasure, but for some reason the Holman Barnes Group embarked upon a review feeling compelled to do so.
“I think it was an ill-conceived publicity stunt that has backfired. I think the Holman Barnes Group were under great pressure to be seen to be doing something in response to the club taking home the wooden spoon two years in a row.
“There are also elections for the Holman Barnes directors in March 2024.”
Over in the Telegraph, he took aim at the way the process was revealed, and the culture of leaks at the club.
“We were told the review would be presented to the Wests Tigers board and we would have an opportunity to respond to it,” said Hagipantelis.
“Well that never happened. There were panic stations today because the report had leaked, which is no surprise given the parties involved.
“Hence there were panic calls today to get approval to adopt the review and then to dismiss the board and lean on Justin.
“It is just the manner in which the people conduct themselves. Not necessarily the outcomes. If this outcome is in the best interests of the club, well so be it.”
Hagipantelis also went for HBG, insisting that they didn’t treat the football club with due respect.
“If my time had come as chairman, then it had come,” he said.
“That is fair enough. But the manner in which these people conduct themselves is just disgraceful, the distinct lack of communication.
“There are five directors who sit on that board that also sit on the board of the shareholders, the Holman Barnes Group and Balmain.
“The Holman Barnes Group treats the Wests Tigers like an extension of its club – like we are part of the fishing club or knitting club.
“The Holman Barnes Group should confine itself to gaming, food and beverage.”
He also speculated to both publications that his sponsorship of the club would be reviewed as a result, refusing to commit beyond the contractually set limits of 2024.
“If I am bound to sponsor the club next year, then I will sponsor the club next year,” he told the Tele.
“One of the things I do is look at the people who are running the organisation.
“I am also told that some of the directors have already reached out to alternative sponsors.
“This is the level of conduct we are dealing with, conduct of which I am very unfamiliar and does not operate in the real world.
“It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Hagipantelis also suggested that the dismissal of the board could cause issues in recruitment, with the club having high profile deals for Jarome Luai and Addin Fonua-Blake in the works.
“There’s no doubt this would jeopardise that,” said the former chair.
“It would be completely ignorant for anyone to suggest that the major disruption to the organisational structure of the club will not impact on recruitment and retention.
“I have already been inundated by calls from player managers expressing grave concern with what has occurred.
He added that the upheaval would negatively affect the club’s new coach, Benji Marshall, who was characterised as a major backer of outgoing CEO Pascoe.
“Ask the experts, ask the geniuses who have committed this review and actually enacted its recommendations,” he said when questioned on its impact on the football department.
“I think it leaves Benji in a very difficult situation. Benji said to me in unequivocal terms that Justin was the best CEO he ever worked with.
“They have now ripped out from him that support.
“A rookie coach needed an experienced CEO, which they have removed from him. I know they have replaced him with Shane Richardson. I don’t know Shane Richardson.
“I make no comment about the man, but I do know how good the relationship was between Benji and Justin and that’s now no longer there. I think Benji will be very circumspect about how his role fits in with the club.”
Finally, Hagipantelis insisted that he was on the brink of turning the club around after years of failure.
“I have no doubt we were on the cusp of turning it around,” he told the Herald.
“This change on the board, what do they think it’s going to achieve?
“I do not know what their ambition is changing the board at this time when the club was in the midst of turning things around.
“I can assure you this is not something the football department or the players wanted.”