Players the focus of Parramatta election

Parramatta veterans Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless will remain heavily involved with the Eels after they retire in a plan by the rebel 3P ticket to increase the role of former players in the future.<br><br>Members will head to the polls on Friday to vote in the Parramatta Leagues Club board elections with 3P – backed by Eels greats Ray Price, Brett Kenny, Eric Grothe and Terry Leabeater – seeking to gain control from chief executive Denis Fitzgerald and the current board.<br><br>Amid accusations of dirty tactics, talk of a Leagues Club in dire financial trouble and a desperate battle to lure more members in to vote, 3P are pulling at the heart strings of Parramatta fans by parading some of the club’s greatest players at a time when the football side can only dream of the halcyon days of 1980s.<br><br>And, according to 3P spokesman Leabeater, it won’t stop there.<br><br>“These kids playing for Parramatta today grew up watching us play and idolising the likes of Brett Kenny and Eric Grothe and the next generation will have done the same with guys like Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless,” Leabeater said.<br><br>“When they retire I don’t want them just sitting around doing their own thing like we have been for too long – I want them involved too.<br><br>“It’s massively important. <br><br>“We don’t want to lose touch with these players that have bled for the club.<br><br>“If you have a look at Manly’s success last year – a lot of their great players were heavily involved in that. <br><br>“When 3P won the football club election (in December) and Ray Price, Brett Kenny, Eric Grothe and myself walked down the tunnel to where the players were training, they all stopped and smiled. <br><br>“We saw the smiles on their faces because they knew we were there with them. <br><br>“I don’t know Denis’ reasons for not letting that happen on a regular basis. <br><br>“We need our greats involved a hell of a lot more.”<br><br>Leabeater’s comments have sparked outcry from the current board however, with Geoff Gerard – himself a former Eel – questioning how passionate the 3P ticket really was.<br><br>“They’re running on what they are going to do about pride and passion,” Gerard said.<br><br>“The fact is that, as a Leagues Club board, we’re all passionate.<br><br>“The thing about the guys that are heading their campaign – Eric and Ray and ‘Bert’ (Kenny) – I believe that they are very passionate about our club but they’re not even standing for election.<br><br>“The fact is that they haven’t been members of our club, so how passionate are they?<br><br>“And who is going to run this board?<br><br>“Ray keeps talking about ‘when we gain control’ – does Ray run the board from outside does he?<br><br>“They’re making some wonderful promises but we’re the ones that have had to make the tough decisions during these tough financial times.<br><br>“Sometimes that’s not going to make you look popular in the eyes of everyone but you’ve got to make these tough calls.”<br><br>Gerard also disputed claims that the current board was running Parramatta Leagues Club into the ground following revelations that they absorbed a massive $9 million loss last financial year.<br><br>“They are running a campaign based on lies while we’re basing ours on the truth,” he said.<br><br>“It’s been a tough year for every club, not just ours, with the poker machine tax and smoking bans.<br><br>“The facts are that the government has taken an extra $25 million in taxes out of our club over the past five or six years.<br><br>“That is money that would have gone into the community, our junior league, refurbishments and of course our NRL side.<br><br>“But as far as I’m concerned the future is all about ensuring the survival of our NRL side.<br><br>“We want to make sure our club is viable – and it is.<br><br>“We actually made $2.5 million profit last year as a club, but yes we put $4 million into the NRL side, about $1.3 million back into the junior league, money into the referees and that’s what we’re about.<br><br>“We’re there to support our football team and the idea for us to continue to make sure that our club is profitable.”<br><br>But Leabeater says that flies in the face of comments made by Fitzgerald last year that he couldn’t guarantee the Eels’ long-term survival.<br><br>“The players must be wondering what is going on,” he said.  “Their minds can’t be on the job if they don’t know what their futures are going to be.<br><br>“To keep having someone preaching doomsday across the headlines – I don’t think I’d be wanting to play for a club that did that either. <br><br>“You want your CEO to talk your club up. What 3P is looking at is a five-year plan to get the place back on track.<br><br>“If it takes a bit longer than that it takes a bit longer – the important thing is that the Eels stick around. <br><br>“The club is in turmoil – it has to change. We can’t keep going down this road.”<br><br>While much of the focus on 3P has centres on the group of former players backing the ticket, Leabeater said the actual team running for election boasted some of Sydney’s ‘most successful’ business leaders.<br><br>“Our team is very impressive,” he said. “Each of them offers something that the others can’t so they will work well together.<br><br>“That’s an important difference – we’re not a one-man band.<br><br>“We’re a team with a definitive goal in mind and a lot of fresh ideas to bring to the table.”<br><br>The current board includes Alan Overton AM, Geoff Gerard, Don Ritchie, Ron Hilditch, Dr Michael Johnson, Chris Jurd and Gary Morris while the rebel ticket comprises John Chidiac, Sid Kelly, Mario Libertini, Joseph Saad, Robert Sassen, Roy Spagnolo and Lyn Wallace.<br><br>The Leagues Club elections run from April 24-26.<br><br>