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The days of searching for the quick fix at Parramatta are over. That was the message from Eels chairman Steve Sharp and chief executive Scott Seward during an extensive interview with Fairfax Media on the eve of the club’s opening game against the Warriors at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday night.
After a turbulent four seasons since the 2009 grand final in which Parramatta changed coach five times and had four chief executives, Sharp and Seward believe they are instilling stability into what is potentially the NRL’s biggest club.
Not only does Sharp insist new coach Brad Arthur will remain in charge next year regardless of results this season, he revealed plans for significant boardroom reform to end the vicious cycle that throws the club into chaos at election time every two years.
Under the proposal, which has the backing of the NRL and is similar to the recent governance changes at Wests Tigers, only half of the Parramatta board would be up for election and eventually Sharp said some independent directors could be appointed in the future.
”The thing you want is stability in the club and we don’t have that at the moment because we go to an election every two years so you lose a few games of football and what could possibly be a good board is out and somebody else comes in,” Sharp said. ”Having stability on the board gives the administration confidence to do what they are doing and hopefully within the next 12 months we will go to our members with that constitutional reform.
”We’d like to go to a two-tiered electoral process where half your directors stand down every second year and the other half go through and we’ll even look as we get further into that constitutional change at the possibility of appointed directors.
”The NRL are keen to have a couple of externally appointed directors, people with great business sense or legal people who can add value to the board.”
While that is some way off, change has already been implemented at the Eels, with Seward overseeing a restructure of the club’s management – including the role of the head coach – aimed at dragging Parramatta into the modern era of professional sport.
”We are not going to follow anyone any more,” Seward said. ”It is too much effort to try to catch up to the rest so let’s just go past them, let’s be better about the way we do things, let’s be innovative, let’s try things, let’s not copy anyone else.”
Former Eels and Warriors coach Daniel Anderson is now responsible for the administration of the salary cap, negotiating with players and managing junior pathways in his role of football general manager, leaving Arthur free to concentrate on coaching.
”Let the coach coach, let him do what he is employed to do rather than being a coach and an administrator and a psychologist and a babysitter and everything else,” Seward said.
”Brad is the head coach, he is not the NRL coach, so he has responsibility to make sure the kids coming through are part of his program and he is building a succession plan as opposed to just focusing on the top 25.”
Past coaches at Parramatta, including Anderson, have not been able to do so because they were constantly trying to avoid the inevitable tap on the shoulder for failing to deliver.
”In the past we have been looking for a quick fix,” Sharp said. ”We’d want to buy the best players we could so we’d go out and buy players who probably just didn’t fit into what we needed at the time so we didn’t get success. What do we do next, we’d go out and buy the best coach available and hope he would turn it around. All of that builds a losing culture in the organisation so we just pulled it all apart and put it back together how it needed to be. If you have the right people in the right roles and the right structure and everyone working together … eventually you will have success.”
Remarkably for a team that has won back-to-back wooden spoons and only narrowly avoided finishing last in 2011, the Eels now have more than 14,000 members – up from 10,500 at the start of last season.
Seward said the club’s target was to build to 20,000 members by this season and eventually get to 50,000.
”We want our fans to want us to win but we aren’t going to promise them anything we can’t deliver,” he said. Asked if he could guarantee that Arthur would not be sacked if results didn’t change dramatically this season, Sharp said: ”As long as I am here he will have the job. I believe he has got to have the opportunity to put his mark on the team.”