Wests Tigers CEO Shane Richardson's brutal truth bomb for struggling NRL club

The massive reality check comes after two successive wooden spoons for the NRL club.

Shane Richardson has given the Wests Tigers a brutal reality check ahead of Benji Marshall's first full season in charge as coach. Pic: AAP/Getty
Shane Richardson has given the Wests Tigers a brutal reality check ahead of Benji Marshall's first full season in charge as coach. Pic: AAP/Getty

Interim Wests Tigers CEO Shane Richardson has taken a pointed swipe at the club's previous leadership team after accusing them of fudging membership numbers at the NRL strugglers. The Tigers have collected two successive wooden spoons as the worst team in the competition in 2022 and 2023, prompting a complete overhaul of the club's board ahead of Benji Marshall's first full season as head coach in 2024.

Richardson - a respected figure in rugby league and former CEO and GM of the Rabbitohs - took over from Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe in December last year. Pascoe and chairman Lee Hagipantelis had been unpopular figures for many supporters and were both part of an extraordinary clear-out of the Tigers board, following a review of the club's culture and governance ordered by controlling faction and major shareholder, the Holman Barnes Group.

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The interim Tigers CEO has wasted little time getting to work and was a driving force behind the $6 million deal to bring three-time premiership winner Jarome Luai to the club from 2025. Richardson is also not afraid to call out the failings of the previous Tigers regime and accused them of using non-paying junior supporters to inflate the membership numbers at the club.

Richardson likened the problems at the Tigers to that of a "recovering alcoholic" and said they would not be able to successfully forge ahead until they accepted their membership predicament. “It’s a bit like being a recovering alcoholic. You can’t get over it until you admit you have a problem. And we have a problem,” Richardson said on the club’s Behind The Roar podcast.

“We’re the lowest paying membership club in the Sydney area. “We’ve been including 9000 juniors who don’t pay at all, so there is no income to the club, and we’ve been declaring we have 20,000 members but we don’t have 20,000 members.

“Let’s be totally honest about what we have because we need you to become a member of this club, in whatever capacity that is. You need to become a member.” Richardson is highly regarded in the rugby league world and his stint as CEO at the Rabbitohs from 2004 to 2015 coincided with the club's drought-breaking NRL premiership in 2014.

Shane Richardson reveals huge ambition for Tigers

An astute league administrator with an acute understanding of the sport and its fans, Richardson says he wants the Tigers to become the “number one sports club in Sydney”. He concedes it will be an enormous task but is buoyed by what he has seen in his first few months at the helm. And Richardson is confident he can help transform the joint venture outfit into a "club that our members and fans and stakeholders can be really proud of".

“They’ve given me a really good reign to be able to carry out what we want to do quickly because one of the problems we have here is that there are a lot of people with good ideas here, but in many ways they’ve been stifled," he said in another swipe at the previous regime. “We want to open our minds up to what we need to do going forward to make this club the number one sports club in Sydney. That’s our goal, nothing short of that.

Seen here, Interim Wests Tigers CEO Shane Richardson speaks to the media.
Interim Wests Tigers CEO Shane Richardson has some big plans for the NRL club. Pic: Getty

“Are we going to be that in 12 months? Probably not. But my track record says we can create a club that our members and fans and stakeholders can be really proud of and we can do it quickly. But you only do it quickly if you act quickly and that’s what we are doing at the moment.”

Richardson was appointed on a six-month contract following the dismissal of the Tigers board in December. One of his first major pieces of business was signing off on the big-money deal to bring Penrith superstar Luai to the club in 2025 - a signing he hailed as a "game-changer" for the Tigers.

"Every team needs and requires a player who can change the game. They are very few and far between and they are like diamonds when they come up because it’s rare when they do. Especially those with a proven track record of three straight premierships," Richardson said about Luai. "We just had to get him. He’s also a massive coup for us off the field in terms of marketing as well. He’s an exciting person to have on board and he will be a game-changer for us."

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