Parramatta chief executive Denis Fitzgerald has warned voting members that a divided board would spell disaster as the battle for control of the Eels threatens to spill from the ballot box into the courtroom.
Members will decide whether to retain the current board or elect a rebel ticket headed by Ray Price, Brett Kenny and Eric Grothe at today’s football club election.
However, the result won’t end the infighting between the factions, with rebel spokesman Terry Leabeater threatening to sue Fitzgerald over comments he made describing Kenny, Grothe and Price as having "unsuccessful working careers".
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is taking legal action against News Ltd after Leabeater reportedly claimed the veteran chief executive had squandered tens of millions of dollars during his reign.
Fitzgerald, who has kept a low profile throughout the campaign, hit back against Leabeater’s allegations on the eve of the vote.
"What I will say is the figures that were put forward by Terry Leabeater … [he] has been telling lies about the situation from a position of very little knowledge," Fitzgerald told The Sun-Herald. "He is relying on rumours. If anything, Leabeater’s presence as a consultant and speaker on behalf of the rebel team is very much to the incumbent board’s advantage."
Former Wests, Bulldogs and Eels prop Leabeater retaliated by threatening defamation proceedings against Fitzgerald as the feud between the parties took another ugly twist.
"If they’re going to start playing this game, we can do it too," Leabeater said yesterday. It cut our guys to the bone, those little comments. There was no need for it at all.
"My attack would not have happened until [current director] Geoff Gerard came out and personally attacked [rebel members]."
Should neither side gain complete control of the board, Price promised the successful rebels would be prepared to work with the board members they were unable to overthrow.
However, Fitzgerald, who recently celebrated his 30th year as CEO of the club, urged members to keep the status quo to avoid a split board.
"I hope they would realise that a divided board would be no good for the continuing success of the club," Fitzgerald said.
"I would like to think the majority of our football members, who have been very loyal Parramatta supporters and most have been long-term football club members, realise the good job the current board has done over a long period of time."
The rebels have pointed to Parramatta’s 22-year premiership drought throughout their campaign – and the fact that Fitzgerald has been the common denominator throughout the period. However, the CEO, whose position is safe regardless of today’s vote, pointed to the current board’s business acumen and the fact that the Eels have won the club championship nine out of the past 12 years.
"We have a very experienced board with a combination of skills who have been willing to do a huge amount of work for the club over decades," said Fitzgerald, who added his team was "quietly confident" of success today.
While both sides have traded threats, barbs and insults, Price said there was no personal vendetta against Fitzgerald.
"We don’t care about Fitzy. This is about giving the football club a bit of discipline and power and passion," Price said. "We’ll be able to work with [Fitzgerald]. If they haven’t got it in their minds that the club comes first, they should bugger off now."
"We’re doing this for the club because we want to see it back up where it deserves to be."
Kenny added: "It’s not a personal thing. We just want to get in and do things to improve the place."