South Sydney supremo Shane Richardson has quit his role at the NRL club to save the Rabbitohs money during the season shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Richardson informed Souths staff on Thursday morning of his decision, resigning as the head of football.
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He became the first high-profile NRL figure to permanently leave his job as a result of the premiership postponement due to the virus, which is tipped to cost both the game and its clubs millions.
Richardson, who was due to leave the Rabbitohs at the end of next year, will remain around as a consultant but will no longer be on the full-time books.
“In times like these, leaders have to step forward and lead,” Richardson said.
“When we were reviewing things with (CEO) Blake (Solly) early in the week, it became very clear to me on Tuesday that I needed to step down.
“The cost of having me remain in the football department was one of our largest costs and as a club we need to cut the cloth to suit the suit.
“No one pushed me into this decision. It became very obvious to me that this was a decision that needed to be made for the next 18 months for the club.”
Richardson is one of the NRL's longest-serving administrators, having been at Cronulla through the Super League war and in charge of Penrith when they won the premiership in 2003.
He joined Souths shortly after as chief executive, and guided them out of turmoil and into financial security under the new private ownership model.
He then helped them to their drought-breaking title in 2014, before joining the NRL for a year and returning as the Rabbitohs head of football in early 2016.
Russell Crowe leads tributes to Richardson
Rabbitohs co-owner Russell Crowe praised Richardson for the “incredibly selfless gesture”.
“Quite simply, without Shane’s focus and input during the decade leading up to the 2014 premiership win, that victory would not have happened,” Crowe said. “Such is his vital contribution.”
“Shane has made an incredibly selfless gesture on behalf of South Sydney.
“It’s something I’ve come to expect from him, he always puts the needs of the club first in everything he does.”
Richardson's departure comes as NRL clubs brace for their biggest ever financial challenges during the stop in play.
Several clubs have already asked staff to take leave, with almost half of the competition's head coaches now sidelined.
“Shane has been the heart of the Rabbitohs for the past 16 years and he has offered great service to the club throughout this period,” chairman Nick Pappas said.
“He has seen the club rise from the very bottom to the very top, as is evidenced by our premiership-victory in 2014.
“We owe him a debt of gratitude for his commitment to the club over an extended period of time.”
— Sally Rawsthorne (@sallyrawsthorne) March 26, 2020
Bombshell as Shane Richardson quits Rabbitohs https://t.co/4R5h7CyPHg
— Sandra Sully (@Sandra_Sully) March 26, 2020
NRL stars’ selfless gesture for fringe players
Minimising the damage for fringe players has been the chief concern for the players' union in talks over pay cuts following the shutdown, according to league boss Todd Greenberg.
Every club's top-30 players are expected to find out how much of a financial shave they will take when league officials and the players' union finalise negotiations on Friday.
And while the cut is likely to be tiered according to how much they earn, it was the lower-income earners on each club's roster who were of most concern to some of the game's superstars.
Speaking on Fox League Mornings, Greenberg spoke glowingly of how some of the league's elite were looking out for teammates on the minimum wage as the game battles a financial crisis caused by the season postponement amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Rugby League Players Association president Cameron Smith was believed to be present in the meeting, as well as fellow directors Daly Cherry-Evans and Wade Graham.
“There wasn't one of those players who were concerned about their own financial future,” Greenberg said on Thursday.
“The primary concern that came through on that call was, 'What are we going to do about the players from numbers 20-30?'
“And, 'How do we make sure they stay afloat during this six month period?' It was a nice, warming thing to hear the players have that view around their colleagues.”
Greenberg went on to describe the important of the NRL and RLPA showing a united front in the midst of a global crisis hurting every corner of the world.