Fears that Brisbane is set to pinch NRL supercoach Craig Bellamy are central to the Melbourne Storm’s legal stoush with former CEO Dave Donaghy, court documents have revealed.
The bitter battle on Monday landed in the Victorian Supreme Court where the Storm have applied for an injunction preventing Mr Donaghy from taking up his role with their NRL rivals.
The feud over Mr Donaghy could be resolved within the next few weeks as the Storm seek to enforce a six-month non-compete clause which would prevent him from taking the reins at Red Hill until August 1.
The Broncos announced in February the former journalist would take over from outgoing boss Paul White, who left the club last week after ten years in charge.
According to an affidavit filed by Storm lawyer Leon Zwier on behalf of the club, Mr Donaghy had agreed to a clause in his contract which halted him from working for a competitor for six months after the termination of his employment.
Mr Donaghy has maintained he would not divulge confidential information obtained during his stint as CEO from July 2015 to January 31 this year.
“If a rival wants to beat Storm, it can do it on its merits,” Mr Donaghy said in his affidavit.
“It is not going to get my assistance by passing on information that is rightly Storm’s.”
But the Storm says Mr Donaghy had access to player and coach contracts, salary cap structures and details of sponsor and government agreements, which could be used by the Broncos to steal players, staff and clients and give them an unfair competitive advantage.
“Donaghy knows the details of Craig Bellamy’s employment with Melbourne Storm,” Mr Zwier said.
“Mr Bellamy is a leading coach in the NRL. His contract expires next year and will be up for renegotiation.
“The Broncos are trying to recruit Mr Bellamy as a coach or consultant. Donaghy has a pre-existing relationship with Bellamy and is aware of the terms that Melbourne Storm is prepared to offer Mr Bellamy.”
The Broncos have on three previous occasions failed to convince Bellamy to return to Brisbane, where he began his career as an assistant coach, and were reportedly ready to offer him a position in their football department above new coach Kevin Walters.
Mr Donaghy also had valuable salary cap information about two Storm players whose contracts are currently being renegotiated and which marquee players from rival clubs they were targeting for 2022, Mr Zwier said.
The Storm also argue he had access to the club’s HR drive, including a top secret folder that set out confidential salary cap and list management information.
Included on the drive was the club’s salary cap calculations and road map for the next four years, as well as modelling “on salary cap strategies until 2024 (which frames player targets)”.
As well as earning a $457,000 wage for the 2020 season, the Storm also in 2017 paid, by way of a loan, the stamp duty on the purchase of Mr Donaghy’s $1.4 million home in the affluent beachside suburb Beaumaris.
“Melbourne Storm provided the funding to Donaghy on the basis that he acknowledged and agreed to be bound by every aspect of his employment contract, including the restraints,” Mr Zwier said.
In May 2018, the Storm agreed to forgive parts of the loan if Mr Donaghy agreed to remain with the Storm.
But Mr Donaghy argues the agreement “was in recognition for service as the lowest paid club CEO in the NRL”.
Mr Donaghy has claimed the Storm have not paid him tens of thousands in his entitlements.
He said amongst the outstanding money was a $50,000 bonus, a termination payment, payment of his long service leave entitlements and a $31,500 reimbursement after his salary was docked during the COVID outbreak in 2020.
Mr Donaghy represented himself before the Supreme Court on Monday where it was heard all Storm staff had their wages initially docked by 50 per cent between April and May 2020 due to the pandemic.
All payments were eventually reinstated except for his, the court heard.
Mr Donaghy maintains he was approached by the Broncos but in court documents, Mr Zwier said Storm chairman Matthew Tripp has been told by his Broncos counterpart Karl Morris it was Mr Donaghy who sounded out the club.
“I respect and appreciate Karl’s position in trying to protect the integrity of the Broncos to avoid litigation, but the simple fact is, one of you are not telling me the truth,” Mr Tripp said in an email to Mr Donaghy.
If it is found the Storm have not met their obligations, the non-compete clause could be considered void, which would open the door for Donaghy to begin with the Broncos immediately.
Barrister Jeffery Gleeson QC, who represented the Storm during the hearing, said Mr Donaghy had not met the criteria to be paid his bonus.
Justice Michael McDonald cast doubt on whether the clause, which had sidelined Mr Donaghy, was fair and legally enforceable.
The judge pointed out that after Mr Donaghy informed the Storm he was in discussions with the Broncos last year, the club’s chief financial officer Ashley Tucker was on October 29 installed as an acting CEO.
Between then and when Mr Donaghy left the club, he reported to Mr Tucker.
Justice McDonald said this meant he was effectively “demoted” despite having a “concrete” contract with the club.
Justice McDonald questioned whether his six-month non-compete period therefore should have begun on November 1, meaning he would be available to start work with the Broncos on April 1.
“If I’m restrained until the 1st of August 2021, the Broncos may very well go elsewhere,” Mr Donaghy told the court.
The matter will be subject to a hearing on March 17 with Mr Donaghy agreeing not to begin with the Broncos until the matter is finalised.
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