Michael Fleming – Looking At The Future Of The New Zealand Warriors

Last Friday, the 2nd of March, a significant event in the history of the New Zealand Warriors occurred with expatriate New Zealand businessman Owen Glenn purchasing a 50% shareholding in the club. Glenn and current owner Eric Watson finalised and signed of the deal with NRL CEO David Gallop in Auckland on Thursday evening, the night of the opening NRL game for 2012.

So who is Owen Glenn? Will his involvement with the Warriors provide a positive influence for the club in the future? Eric Watson’s ownership has provided sound governance, financial stability, and a clear strategy of local development. These factors have transpired into on field success illustrated by 40,000 seats being pre sold to their first NRL game of 2012 – double the number for the super rugby opener at the same venue. Will Glenn’s’ involvement strengthen this?

What is known about Owen Glenn? Despite being born in Calcutta, not having lived in New Zealand for forty years, and not being able to vote in New Zealand, Mr Glenn was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005. This may be a reflection of his philanthropic nature. Mr Glenn has donated $7.5m to the Auckland business school, $500,000 to the Labour Party in 2005, an interest free loan to the Labour party in 2007, as well as donations to New Zealand First. He has also pledged $1 million to the New Zealand Hockey Foundation as well as an annual $100,000 grant to talent development, saying “I’m a great believer in the importance of sport and what it teaches young people.” His political donations came at a time when he was a candidate for a diplomatic post in Monaco.

There’s no denying his business savvy. Glenn has an exclusive deal with British American Tobacco as its freight agent for all of Australasia. More troubling is Owen Glenn’s oft-forgotten and rarely discussed business past. In the mid-nineties Glenn paid a settlement of $US1.5m to the Federal Maritime Commission after being prosecuted for fraud by the US government. This related to misstating the size and weight of his cargo shipments.

So what does this mean for the Warriors? For mine it will bring deeper financial security in a volatile business environment. Put simply, private ownership in sport is for the uber rich and requires deep pockets. With Glenn and Watson the Warriors have some of the deepest in the NRL. But what does this mean given the competition is governed by a salary cap?

Brad Walter of the Sydney Morning Herald noted that prior to announcing his ownership Mr. Glenn asked Warriors coach Bluey McClennan if he could have any four rugby league players in the world who would they be? McClennans answer was he had the players to win the comp. A good answer by McClennan that will give fans faith but of more interest is Glenn’s thought process.

If he is asking these questions does that mean he is willing to target the top four players in the game? Sure, we are a development club but let’s be honest, if there was a chance to secure a player of Greg Inglis stature would you be complaining? And yes, before we all say we have tried before and missed the likes of Thurston, that was before the new ownership and recent on field successes. And again, I know we have to operate under a salary cap but it has been widely reported that in 2011 the Warriors did not spend the entire cap.

The Warriors occupy a unique piece of the NRL and New Zealand sporting landscape. They are a one country franchise. This provides a definite resource advantage in a growing talent environment. Contact sport is further becoming dominated by Polynesian Athletes and New Zealand has these athletes in abundance. The success of the Kiwis in the four nations and World Cup coupled with the Warriors growing success at all levels (three teams in Grand finals 2011) along with the exposure presented by the Toyota Cup and you have a genuine desirable career path for young athletes.

In recent years the Warriors have had success identifying young school boy union talent. Stars such as Charlie Gubb, Omar Slaimankhel, Konrad Hurrell, Braxton Stanley, and Dylan Collier have all come to the club. A good success rate of identification but it must also be noted that two of the brighter school boy stars of that era – Matt McGahan and Tupou Sopoaga (brother of Highlander Lima) have gone to the Storm and Bulldogs Toyota cup sides respectively. Can more resources be invested into securing the cream of the sporting talent from both codes at school boy level? How would young Tawera Kerr-Barlow look in a Warriors number 9 if he had of been picked up out of Hamilton Boys by the Warriors and not the Chiefs?

A limiting factor to this talent identification will be the limited number of first grade places. Can Glenn and Watson’s ownership increase this? Can we enter into the Jim Beam cup or Queensland Cup competitions? If we are truly a development club providing sporting opportunities to New Zealand youths can we utilize the abundance of resource / talent in this country and enter a team in the UK Super League under the Warriors brand to provide further opportunities to New Zealand Rugby League players?

I appreciate Watson’s unselfish thoughts that whilst the club loses some of the junior talent such as Sosaia Feki, Siuatonga Likiliki, Nafe Seluini, Neccrom Areaiiti, and many others to rival clubs, they are still providing opportunities to New Zealand kids BUT we are sitting on a gold mine of talent. How can the new ownership provide opportunities to this talent whilst maximize the returns?

Either way, the future of the club has been strengthened by the new ownership structure. I do not think money solves everything or is a golden bullet for a premiership (sorry Knights fans). I do think it gives the club further options (ask Cronulla if they would like more coin for on and of field resources). I look forward to the clubs future. Under the ownership of Watson, and now with Glenn on board, the club have a stable base to build toward further future success, something many New Zealand sporting organizations have failed to do after past success.

To put it simply, Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarn the Warriors!

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