NRL heavyweights Todd Greenberg and Shane Richardson head the list of potential successors after Dave Smith on Tuesday called time on his three-year reign as a rugby league “change agent”.
Smith formally finishes up on November 30 and believes he’s leaving the game in good shape, despite ending his tenure as chief executive in the middle of the league’s billion-dollar TV rights negotiations.
“I’m going to take a bit of a break and spend some time with my girls,” said the father of two.
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman John Grant will take over as interim CEO while a worldwide search is conducted for a successor and is refusing to guarantee a permanent replacement will be appointed by the start of the 2016 season.
“The end job for the commission is to get the right person,” said Grant, indicating the NRL would prefer to appoint an in-house candidate despite engaging a leading recruitment firm to scour the globe.
Greenberg, the former Canterbury boss and now the league’s head of football, is the early favourite, while Richardson – a long-time senior official at Cronulla, Penrith and South Sydney and currently the NRL’s head of game strategy and development – is also believed to be in the mix.
Other names being mooted include Bulldogs boss Raelene Castle and former AFL chief Andrew Demetriou.
“Obviously, there was a choice to put a current executive into that interim role but, if you look at our executive team, they are a good solid team who understand their jobs,” Grant said.
“It would’ve been very disruptive to pull one of those out because then we would’ve had to back-fill that person by moving someone else.
“So we made the decision it was just too disruptive.
“(But) we purposefully brought on people in Dave’s tenure as CEO who could potentially be successors to him over the long term. That was the plan.
“In our search for his replacement, it’s an internal and external search and we’re hopeful internal candidates stick their hand up.”
Smith has been a polarising figure in rugby league since taking over from decade-long chief David Gallop ahead of the 2013 season.
A former banker, Welsh-born Smith has been credited with improving league finances but he was constantly at odds with clubs over the direction of the game and how the NRL’s revenue was divided up.
His exit was also being linked by some to the ongoing negotiations over the NRL’s lucrative broadcast rights, but he insisted that was not the case.
Both Smith and Grant were adamant the contribution had been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve been a change agent for most of my career and the time has come for me to hand over to a new leader to consolidate these gains and I finish with pride in the game’s achievements,” Smith said.
“Together with the ARLC, the 16 NRL clubs and the state leagues, we have made significant progress in modernising rugby league and, having assessed our progress and year-end position, it is clear we now have the foundations in place for long-term success.”
Grant said although the league “would have liked him to stay longer”, the governing body respected Smith’s decision to walk away.
“It’s not inconvenient. We are very comfortable with where we are,” Grant said.
Smith was confident his legacy was strong.
“Our broadcast rights are in really, really good shape,” he said.
“I would not be going anywhere if I did not believe the fans were going to get a very good deal.
“We have secured the biggest free-to-air broadcast deal in our history – $1.6 billion for investment in rugby league stadiums and a financial platform that includes a sustainability fund of $50 million and a surplus of $100 million that is progressively being invested back into the game, and a 48 per cent increase in non-broadcast revenue.
“We are consistently enjoying record-breaking Origin and finals series and we have grown significantly with more than 300,000 fans converted into club members … and we’ve introduced some new products such as the Auckland Nines and World Cup Challenge.”