Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis has refused to guarantee the future of under-presser chief executive Justin Pascoe and blasted the club’s struggles as “embarrassing”.
Hagipantelis also hit out at the “erroneous and defamatory claims” that assistant coach Benji Marshall stood to benefit financially from the recruitment of certain players.
The embattled chairman was peppered with tough questions in a wide-ranging and at times brutal interview on NRL 360 on Monday night.
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The Tigers are anchored to the bottom of the ladder with seven games to play and are staring down the barrel of consecutive wooden spoons.
“We all are under incredible pressure. The last couple of weeks have been the worse in my time as chairman,” Hagipantelis said.
“But this entire club is feeling the pressure all the way from the chairman through the board to the executive all the way down to the players. They all feel it, no one is immune from it.
“Winning another wooden spoon, if you can call it winning, is something we are all embarrassed about. We aren’t there yet, we haven’t given up on this year, but it’s something we aren’t proud of.”
Phil Rothfield then asked Hagipantelis if he could guarantee Pascoe would keep his job next year.
“No. You’ll never hear me use the words guarantee,” Hagipantelis said.
“There are legal implications of guaranteeing someone’s employment but as we stand here today, there is no reason to think that Justin Pascoe won’t be the CEO in 2024. He has the full faith and confidence of the board.”
Hagipantelis also rejected a bombshell report that suggested Marshall was pushing for the club to sign Aidan Sezer because he owned a stake in the company that represented the former Raiders star.
“it continues to be a storm in a teacup but lets not forget this drama was started by someone who identified himself as Scott Fulton’s godfather, implicating Scott unfortunately, referencing a Wests Tigers official having a 15 per cent share in a management company,” Hagipantelis said.
“It did create a lot of drama. It transpires that the assertion that Benji has an interest in the company is erroneous and defamatory, so that’s what triggered the drama yesterday.
“We spoke to Benji’s manager and he was furious. He rang me, he rang Justin Pascoe, he denied vehemently that Benji has any interest whatsoever in this management company.
“Of course the inference is that Benji is only preferring players that Benji only has a financial interest in. Could you impugn the credibility of someone more than that? It was disgraceful assertion without any factual basis.”
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Hagipantelis was also asked why Pascoe was meeting with sacked Titans head coach Justin Holbrook without Tigers coach Tim Sheens knowing about it.
“Justin’s role is to keep abreast of all and any developments within the game including the availability of assistant coaches or other persons who may be of interest to this club,” he said.
“His job is to explore these opportunities and then bring them back to the club for discussion and consideration and that’s what he was proposing to do.
“Justin doesn’t have the authority to appoint coaches, that’s a matter for the board, and at the end of the day, the head coach will always have the assistant coaches he wants.
“Justin was simply exploring an opportunity. Now don’t forget of course there are reports that Justin also met with the Bulldogs and North Queensland and so I assume that they were doing simply what Justin was doing which was exploring an opportunity to see if there would be anything in it for us as a club.
“I perfectly understand the frustration, I’m sharing it. Noone wants to be at the bottom of the table two years in a row. As I said, it’s embarrassing.
‘No one survives that, not even Sheens’ | 01:54
“But as to the leadership, I serve as does Justin, at the pleasure of the board. So the board decides who sits in the chairman seat and who the CEO is. There are no decision taken by Justin that’s not ratified by the board. He doesn’t appoint coaches, he doesn’t recruit players, his role is as the chief executive which involves all the operational matters. The buck stops with the board.
Hagipantelis was asked if Sheens would be the Tigers’ head coach in 2024.
“That’s the plan, that’s what his contract says,” he said.
“Look, I understand the challenges. We’re not immune, we have ticked a lot of boxes. Our roster is much stronger than what it was last year unfortunately the results haven’t borne that out but we know there are challenges particularly around the halves. We are losing Luke (Brooks), Adam Doueihi will be injured for half of next season at least so there are challenges presented.
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“There is a lot of upside, we have significantly improved this roster. (John) Bateman, Api (Koroisau) for example, (David) Klemmer, (Jahream) Bula at the back has been a revelation so there’s a lot of upside and I think player managers, from my understanding, are having a lot of faith in what we are doing.”
“The final say, as it always should be rests with the head coach. I don’t know any instance where a player has been forced onto a head coach he doesn’t want.”
“Scott (Fulton’s) role is to recruit the players that Benji and Tim want. Scott is regarded as perhaps the best recruit in the game and came highly recommended. We did our due diligence, he came highly recommended and we employed him.”
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