An Auckland rugby league club that burned down in a suspected arson last month was uninsured and had failed for years to file required financial returns, a Herald investigation has revealed.
The Mt Albert home of the storied Marist Saints Rugby League Club in Murray Halberg Park was engulfed by fire early on November 16 in what police are treating as an arson.
More than a century of irreplaceable club treasures were lost.
Four days earlier, another fire had erupted in the rear stairwell of the clubrooms, but did not go on to consume the building.
A fire investigation report is still being prepared and a concurrent police investigation has not yet yielded any arrests.
Multiple sources close to the club have confirmed its insurance had lapsed before the fire.
Adding to the club’s woes is the fact it was dissolved as an incorporated society in April for failing to file financial statements.
Public records show it last filed a financial statement in 2020 for the year ended September 30, 2019.
Financial records show it ran a deficit of $22,172, with total expenses of $132,917 and income of $110,795. The largest source of income was grants - nearly $40,000 - followed by souvenirs and clothing ($14,645) and subscriptions and gear sales ($12,605). Net assets were $232,309 with liabilities of $18,735.
Bolen Ng, the business registries national manager for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said the incorporated club was dissolved on April 3 this year “as a result of the club failing to file its financial statements despite several reminders to do so”.
Ng said there are no penalties under the Incorporated Societies Act for continuing to operate while dissolved.
“However, societies’ officers and assets may be placed at financial risk if their society continues to operate while dissolved due to the loss of its incorporated status,” Ng said.
No further enforcement action was taken against the club, he said.
The club is now facing a steep financial hill to climb to rebuild its clubrooms and get reincorporated onto the Incorporated Societies Register. It is raising funds via a Givealittle page.
New club chair Hengi Fusitua, who took over in April after the club was dissolved, declined to comment ahead of its Annual General Meeting on Sunday.
It is understood the club’s CCTV did not function but the fire was captured by the camera of a nearby house.
The Herald has obtained a Fire and Emergency NZ incident report logging all messages and calls recorded by firefighters as the blaze erupted and progressed to consume the club.
The log shows the building was totally involved in fire when crews arrived.
It also shows some of the fire was captured on a motorway camera some distance from the park, which shows its progression.
The log said the origin of the fire was on the ground level but otherwise unable to immediately classify at the scene, before it was turned over to investigators.
At 3.36am, a caller reported seeing a bin on fire near the club, and seconds later told the call-taker the side of the building was alight.
Marist Saints was founded in 1919 and has been the home of many famous rugby league names including a young Sonny Bill Williams, former Kiwis captain Roy Asotasi and Warriors legend Jerome Ropati.
Other well-known former Warriors such as Francis Meli and Motu Tony got their start at the club.
Life member and Williams’ former coach Hans Wulf could barely look at the gutted remains of the clubhouse when he spoke to the Herald immediately after the fire.
“Photos of my family, my son, all gone, it’s all gone, it’s very tough.”
Police are asking anyone with footage or information to contact them via the 105 phone service, quoting file number P056740658.
George Block is an Auckland-based reporter with a focus on police, the courts, prisons and defence. He joined the Herald in 2022 and has previously worked at Stuff in Auckland and the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin.