The process to elect the next NZ Rugby chairman slipped under the radar at the AGM this week, but a shuffling of the deck has revealed two likely candidates.
Two contenders have emerged for the soon-to-be vacant New Zealand Rugby chairman position, with board members Stewart Mitchell and Bailey Mackey putting up their hands to contest the role next month.
In an unprecedented move on Thursday, the NZ Rugby board opted to re-elect outgoing chairman Brent Impey for one month until a special general meeting can be held to vote on his replacement.
Impey has been NZ Rugby chairman for the past seven years.
The process to elect Impey's replacement slipped under the radar after being confirmed behind closed doors following NZ Rugby's Annual General Meeting in Wellington, where the 26 provincial unions voted unanimously in favour of the proposal to sell 12.5 per cent of NZ Rugby's commercial rights to Silver Lake for $387.5 million.
"I've been re-elected as chair and I immediately advised that I will be resigning when a new chair is appointed," Impey confirmed to the Herald. "There is a meeting set up on May 31 to determine where we go next."
NZ Rugby's nine-member board have one vote each to elect a new chairman next month. While other board members such as Shaun Nixon, the charted accountant and former Blues director, may yet opt to stand, the Herald understands Mitchell and Mackey are the only confirmed candidates at this stage.
Dr Farah Palmer, the former Black Ferns World Cup-winning captain who has served on the NZ Rugby board and as chair of the Māori rugby board since 2016, was expected to be a leading candidate to replace Impey.
Palmer was the first female elected to the NZ Rugby board and would double as the inaugural female chair, but for several reasons intimated to the Herald she is unlikely to stand.
"At this stage I haven't indicated whether or not I will. We're having a meeting at the end of May to have a look at our options and decide what's best for NZ Rugby," Palmer said.
Palmer already serves on the Sport New Zealand board and is the associate dean - Māori - at Massey University's business school in Palmerston North, where she and her family reside. She also cited her 11 and eight-year-old children as key considerations, and mentioned her husband is a rugby coach.
"It might be seen as a bit of a conflict being the chair of NZ Rugby and being on the Sport New Zealand board so you've got to consider that," Palmer said.
"I really enjoy the Sport New Zealand board because it gives you a whole of sport and recreation perspective which keeps me sane I think.
"All those commitments have to be taken into consideration about the chairman position because it is a full-on role in terms of having a good relationship with the CEO, getting out with the provincial unions and members so it's a lot of work.
"I've had a lot of people approach me which is nice because don't tend to value myself. I just need to sit down and have a really good think about. Front of mind for me is what do we need in a chair and do I have the values and skills to take it to the next level? There's a lot going on with the whole project future and Silver Lake and a lot of things to negotiate."
Palmer has been elected for another three years as the Māori representative on the NZ Rugby board - a title that automatically assumes the chair role on the Māori rugby board which she takes great pride in.
"I'm really excited about where we're going with that and I feel like that board is really humming. Do I want to give that up? I'm very passionate about Māori rugby as well as women's rugby."
While the prospect of being a further trailblazer by becoming the first female chair appeals, Palmer appears unlikely to contest the position this time around.
"There's a lot of pressure too to say 'if it was going to anyone it would be you'. That's definitely part of the decision as well.
"I do try and connect with the whole rugby environment. I don't actually have to bring up women's rugby much around the board table. People might think that's what I specifically focus on but I don't. It's been a really great learning curve the last four years."
The Herald understands another touted board member candidate, former Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell, has opted not to stand. Being based in Melbourne would count against Campbell, and it is also understood he has serious conflicts attached to his Left Field Live company that stands to gain significant financial benefits from the yet-to-be launched All Blacks XV team, who are scheduled to play two matches in France later this year.
The contest for the next NZ Rugby chairman is, therefore, expected to pit Mitchell, the former Canterbury chair, Crusaders board member and qualified accountant who joined the NZ Rugby board in 2014, against Mackey, the founder and chief executive of Pango Productions – a privately owned film and television company that produced the All or Nothing All Blacks documentary and Match Fit.
Mackey also has strong ties to the grassroots game through his Gisborne base and role as president of Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union. In 2017, he was named Māori Entrepreneur of the Year and joined the NZ Rugby board last year.
The decision on the next chairman takes on greater intrigue with two-newly elected board members, Ajit Balasingham and Mark Hutton, replacing Sir Michael Jones and Richard Dellabarca and immediately thrust into voting on a pivotal position.
NZ Rugby's next chairman faces a landmark time in charting the game's future, with the presence of private investors set to spark the biggest change in governance and revenue since the turn of professionalism.