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After 65 years Auburn Warriors rugby league club to fold following failed Salim Mehajer sponsorship deal

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 4 days ago Adrian Proszenko
Sponsor woes: The Auburn warriors say they upheld their end of the bargain, while Salim Mehajer didn't pay a cent in return. © NSWRL Sponsor woes: The Auburn warriors say they upheld their end of the bargain, while Salim Mehajer didn't pay a cent in return.

The Auburn Warriors rugby league club has been forced to fold after embattled former Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer allegedly reneged on a six-figure sponsorship arrangement.

The Warriors have been a long-time developer of football talent in the region and NRL players including Matt Utai, Omar Slaimankhel and Heka Nanai have worn their jersey. The club has fielded teams in the Sydney Shield and Ron Massey competitions, making the 2017 grand final in the latter.

However, the Warriors can no longer afford to participate after a sponsorship deal with Mehajer worth $100,000 remains unpaid. It's alleged that Mehajer had agreed to pay that amount in return for having his company, Mehajer Brothers, emblazoned on Warriors jerseys, as well as signage at home ground Lidcombe Oval. While the club upheld its part of the bargain, Mehajer didn't pay a cent in return. The result is that $30,000 worth of payments to players from last year remain outstanding.

Warriors president Fedi Sleiman said he tried to renegotiate the deal to allow Mehajer an opportunity to pay the outstanding fee over the course of two seasons in an attempt to recoup at least some of the money, but to no avail.

"He didn't pay us. He didn't pay a cent," Sleiman told Fairfax Media.

"He kept saying 'it will be this week, I'm talking to my accountant, they froze my accounts, blah, blah'.

"We just got sick of it in the end.

"His name was on our jerseys, on game day we put it all over our screens and on our shirts, on training gear. We were playing at Lidcombe Oval right next to his buildings.

"He earned a lot of exposure but he didn't come up with his cash."

Fairfax Media has obtained emails between Mehajer and the club, in which the colourful businessman said he was attempting to pay the outstanding amount.

"Please Cosinder [sic] this as a formal emailto [sic] confirm that the sponsorship is still at foot," Mehajer wrote in August.

"Unfortunately, we have been audited and we are waiting for the ATO to release the funds.

"We are still willing to relpay [sic] release $100,000.00 subject to it being 100% tax decidable [sic].

"I have mentioned that I will be such to the ATO but they did say that "until the audit is over, no one is able to assist me- nor am I able to make a partial payment".

In another email, sent to a third party, Mehajer wrote that "I promised a young talented Rugby league Team that I will sponsor them for the amount of $100,000.00" and that the invoices he had received remain "un-paid".

Mehajer has been behind bars since he was refused bail at Waverley Local Court last month over allegations he staged a car crash to avoid appearing in court for an assault trial. Fairfax is seeking comment from Mehajer's legal representatives.

Sleiman has been attempting to pay the players the outstanding amounts out of his own pocket. He said he knocked back another potential sponsorship, worth $50,000, because of the agreement with Mehajer.

"We don't have a leagues club, we don't have the backing of anyone else," Sleiman said.

"When he comes up with nothing, there's nothing we can do. We can't keep going."

Slaimankhel, one of the stars of the 2017 grand final campaign and a former member of NRL franchise New Zealand Warriors, said many players remain out of pocket and without a club due to the sponsorship drama.

"It's very disappointing," he said.

"He had the best year for Auburn, he got the most exposure with us making the finals last year.

"He was our main sponsor. For him to do that, I don't know what he's going through, he's got his own issues."

The NSWRL confirmed the Warriors wouldn't be taking part in their competitions in 2018.

"It's sad that last year's Ron Massey Cup grand finalists aren't able to take part next year."

Sleiman hoped a white knight sponsor would emerge to enable the Warriors to return to the Ron Massey Cup in 2019.

"A few of the boys want to play A-grade until we can find someone who can rescue us next year for Ron Massey, if someone is generous enough to help us out," Sleiman said.

The Auburn Warriors, who were established in 1953, were a feeder club to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs NSW Cup side last year.

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