The besieged Australian Rugby League confirmed ‘The Muller Group’ as licence holders for the Gold Coast ‘Gladiators’ in the 1996 Optus Cup premiership, and promised shot term support to ensure a smooth transition into the competition.
Former Ipswich Jets coaching director, Phil Economidis was appointed coach, succeeding former Manly star, John Harvey, who was sacked by chairman, Jeff Muller the previous week.
ARL chairman, Ken Arthurson said the Muller Group had met all requirements, financial and otherwise, to be in the competition but made it clear there had to be a proper administrative structure.
Solicitor and former Rothmans Gold Medal winning back, Mike Eden was appointed chief executive, but quit after a very short time when he and Muller argued over a number of issues.
Mr Muller, a flamboyant businessman, had been granted the Gold Coast licence on December 20, and two days later boasted the club would win a premiership in its first year!!
In the ensuing weeks he attracted headlines for his unorthodox dealings with players, and, at one stage, claimed he was being undermined by forces intent on scuttling his claim on the Gold Coast licence.
In the transfer of contracts from the old (Tweed Heads based) Gold Coast Seagulls to the new club, Muller had an obligation to pay all registered contracts. If players did not accept the deals agreed to when they were at Seagulls, they could be released.
The Gladiators’ first commitment was the World Sevens in Sydney, and Economidis named a squad which included Kiwi international, Dave Watson; former Sydney Wests’ forward, Damian Driscoll and former Rooster, Brendan Hurst, who was named skipper.
Ultimately Muller would lose his hold on the licence and the club, which became known as the Chargers, and was run by the ARL in 1996 with Paul Broughton as chief executive.
It was a tough time for the game.
In his book ‘One More Walk Around the Block’, Broughton lamented that the Super League War created a market place, which, in effect, became an auction.
“Player auctions were like a sale yard and players like meat on the hoof,” Broughton wrote. “Player managers went from driving FJ Holdens to Mercedes overnight. We (the Chargers) had 18 days to put a team together.”