Balmain legend Benny Elias has let rip at his beloved club amid news chairman Lee Hagipantelis has been re-elected to the position for another three years. The move came after a board meeting at the Tigers on Monday, with Elias filthy it happened before an external review into the club's disappointing NRL season could be completed.
Hagipantelis - who is principal of the club's major sponsor Brydens Lawyers - has presided over the second consecutive wooden spoon at the Tigers, who also finished last in the 2022 season. His re-election as club president comes after Elias revealed he was among the dozens of people asked to provide feedback as part of the external review into the Tigers' season.
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“This review has just started, because I’ve been involved in this review, they’ve asked myself and 50 other people,” Elias said on NRL 360. “Not after what I saw this afternoon when they signed chairperson now for a further three years. How do we reward someone who has two wooden spoons? Let’s sign him up for three years. Wow.
“This bloke spends more money than any other bloke at the club and there’s no way you’re going to challenge him. All of a sudden he’s bought his way into this club and has absolutely zero, zero impact on what’s happening off the football field.
“This is the bloke who only said a couple of weeks ago that there are certainties in life — taxes, death and one thing is for sure: Tim Sheens will be coaching the club next year in 2024. This is the chairperson that just got re-elected for three years... he said it himself the buck starts and finishes with the board.”
— Fox League (@FOXNRL) September 20, 2023
Fox League’s James Hooper echoed Elias' shock over the re-appointment of Hagipentelis after suggesting the club needed a thorough clean-out of the board after overseeing years of mediocrity on the footy field. “I like and respect Lee but fans have had a gutful, seriously. On the back of two spoons, how many coaches they’ve sacked, how many local juniors they’ve let slip through the cracks, something has got to give and change,” Hooper said.
“To reappoint the chairman for three seasons on the back of collecting a second wooden spoon... who is coming up with these decisions? They [the board members] are koala bears. Nobody can touch them. They are untouchable and Lee has admitted that.
“Lee has said, ‘Yes, in a sense, we are a protected species’, because the way the club is structured members have no say. It’s why you have fans showing up at games rolling out the (Tigers CEO Justin) Pascoe Fascoe banners, they’ve had a gutful. They’re over it.”
Tigers banking on Benji Marshall to turn things around
Hooper was referring to a group of Wests Tigers were unfurled banners at the club's final game of the season against Manly, calling for the axing of club CEO Justin Pascoe. The group handed out flyers that stated “end the Pascoe fiasco” and were heard singing chants calling for him to be sacked.
The Tigers will be hoping the fast-tracking of club great Benji Marshall into the head coaching role in 2024 will coincide with a change of fortunes at the NRL strugglers. Marshall was originally slated to take over from veteran coach Tim Sheens after next season, but after discussions involving the board and all parties, it was decided the Kiwi great would be handed the reins from next season.
The Daily Telegraph’s Michael Carayannis said the success of Marshall and the decision to fast-track his coaching appointment is likely to define Hagipentelis' reign at the club. He did admit that success-starved fans had every reason to question the board's moves after years of on-field failure.
“It is interesting considering there is a review going on right now as well into the management and structure of the club and this is done before that review happens. I think Lee will now be defined by the choice of Benji Marshall as head coach,” Carayannis said.
“If I’m a Wests Tigers fan I’m sitting there going, ‘Is this really the right direction to be heading in?’ considering if you look at the runs on the board, they’re not there. But I know Lee is determined and has the right intentions to turn this thing around.”
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