Wolfpack billionaire in mix for share as Storm change ownership model

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Melbourne Storm has radically changed its ownership structure, with majority shareholder Bart Campbell halving his stake and negotiations opening with David Argyle, the billionaire mining magnate owner of the Toronto Wolfpack, to take a share.

Online wagering pioneer Matt Tripp is expected to be the new chair of the 23-year-old club which is preparing for the eventual retirements of coach Craig Bellamy and captain Cameron Smith.

Toronto Wolfpack owner David Argyle, left, lifts the Championship 1 Promotion Trophy in 2017.Credit:Getty

Tripp will meet Australian-born Argyle in the north of England on Friday night when Warrington Wolves host the Toronto Wolfpack in a Super League battle of the canids.

A relationship between the Storm and the Wolfpack would allow an international exchange of players and coaching know-how, as well as the guaranteed capitalisation of both clubs and accelerate Argyle’s push into the United States where he has long harboured the ambition of establishing a rugby league team.

However, the Storm is now owned by four Melbourne-based businessmen with significant personal wealth, meaning any buy in by Argyle would be on their terms.

Argyle signed dual international Sonny Bill Williams to a two-year contract reportedly worth $10m, an extravagant outlay for a 34-year-old player who came off the bench for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup last year. Considering Cameron Smith earns $1m a season, including sponsorships, outlays of the Sonny Bill magnitude would raise eyebrows with even the richest owners of Australian football clubs.

The end of Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith’s time at the Storm is being planned for by the club.Credit:AAP

Under the Storm’s new equity structure, Tripp, Campbell and Gerry Ryan, the “caravan king”, will each own 25 per cent.

Another Melbourne businessman, Brett Ralph, who owns the 1,000-vehicle transport company Jet Couriers with his brother Shaun, will take 20 per cent. The remaining five per cent will sit with a new owner yet to be endorsed by the NRL.

Tripp said from London: “I am excited about the new ownership structure by welcoming two new owners into the mix.”

Matt Tripp is expected to become Melbourne’s new chair.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Should Argyle join the consortium, Tripp, Campbell and Ryan would each surrender a fifth of their individual equity to him, meaning Argyle would own 15 per cent, leaving four owners with 20 per cent each.

In that scenario, the Storm will be at least 85 per cent owned by Melbourne businessmen and led by chief executive, Dave Donaghy, who has remained loyal to the Storm despite the interest of other NRL clubs.

The Ralph brothers, whose Jet Couriers have branches in Australian capital cities, as well as Dallas, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Houston and Auckland, also own the Melbourne Aces baseball team.

The Aces recently won the Claxton Shield, the premier trophy of the reborn Australian Baseball League, and will hold the Ralph brothers equity in the Storm.

Tripp recently sold his remaining share in online betting company, BetEasy to Canadian wagering behemoth the Stars Group and will have time to devote to steering the Storm over the next decade.

Ryan, with interests in hotels, theatre productions, wineries, a Tour de France cycling team, racehorses, as well as founding Jayco, is estimated to be worth $500 million but is time poor and is relieved Tripp will take a more active role.

Campbell, a New Zealand born barrister and sports entrepreneur, has chaired the Storm since inaugural owner News Corporation sold it in May 2013.

He has halved his equity in the club as he pursues other business interests including chairing Brick Lane Brewing Company, a leading independent Victorian brewery.

Jet Couriers have been sponsors of the Storm for 16 years, taking a corporate suite next to the coach’s box occupied by Bellamy.

As such, they have been exposed to his passion and commitment – an inspiration for staff and a cause for the buy in by the Ralph brothers.

Bellamy is not expected to take a full-time position as a coach anywhere when his current contract concludes in 2022 and he has a close association with Tripp. Bellamy can be expected to have significant input into future major decisions.

Bellamy’s work ethic knows no limits. He recently called the Storm’s video man at 10.30pm complaining about 30 seconds of missing vision of a game.

“But it’s only half a minute of vision missing,” the video man protested.

“That’s three play-the-balls,” Bellamy fumed. “I could learn alot in that 30 seconds.”

John Ribot, the inaugural executive chairman of the Storm, said, “The ownership changes mean we have working class guys who have done well leading a club in a working class game which can get even better.”

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