A trip west to mend scorched bridges is at the top of the to-do list for n rugby’s CEO Raelene Castle, but the new boss warned she expected all parties to move on from the turbulent events that dogged the sport last year.
The former Bulldogs and Netball New Zealand chief will kick off her stewardship of Rugby with a tour of all states and unions and plans to spend at least two days in Perth to repair relations between the national body and Rugby WA after the Western Force was axed from Super Rugby.
Castle said she was serious about rebuilding a relationship with the rugby community in Western but also signalled her expectation that the slate be wiped clean in order for that to happen.
“It won’t just be a pat on the shoulder, it will be a genuine engagement, for me that’s important,” Castle said at the start of her first day in the job at Rugby ‘s Moore Park headquarters.
“We have a state over there that has produced and continues to produce some good rugby talent and we need to make sure we find a way to engage with them.
“The ‘but’ is that I didn’t have anything to do with [the decision to shut down the Force] so I can say ‘I understand there’s been some very challenging times and I can hear all of that concern, but I can say ‘we need to draw a line in the sand and say this is how we can build a relationship to move forward’.”
Castle will also zero in on the other unions and spend time getting to know the game at the grassroots in each state, where rugby league, AFL and football have been encroaching on rugby’s traditional territories.
“I think it’s important I get out and look and see what rugby looks like at a community level,” she said.
“Every state has their own challenges, they have different opportunities, they face different competitors from different sports and it’s important I get out and understand that so I don’t just have a Sydney-centric view of it, but a view of what this sport looks like across the whole country. We are a national sport and it’s really important.”
The n-born, New Zealand-raised administrator faces several big challenges in her new role, including how the game handles the fallout from Karmichael Hunt’s drugs charges, the continued threat to the Wallabies posed by northern hemisphere clubs and the domestic threats of competing codes. The sport is also at risk of spreading itself thin in its pursuit of growth, having announced it would fund a women’s Super W competition in addition to full-time professional men’s and women’s sevens programs, a university-based women’s sevens competition, the National Rugby Championship, four Super Rugby franchises, the Wallaroos and the Wallabies. To say nothing of a bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup and 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Castle has already met with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, revealing she spent an hour with him before accepting the role of chief executive late last year. The pair will meet again on Tuesday for a two-hour chat.
“The relationship between the CEO and the coach is incredibly important,” Castle said.
“It’s about making sure that we find an engagement that works really well and that we can help each other and work closely together.”
Castle said “stability” was her primary aim in the short term, having taken over after one of the most dramatic and consistently conflict-ridden periods in the game’s history. While the Western Force saga dominated the headlines last year, the traditional heavyweights of the n landscape, the Waratahs and Reds, have made it known they want a seat at the decision-making table.
“It’s about those relationships,” she said. “When you’ve got a sport where the states, franchises and national body aren’t on the same page, it takes a lot of energy to be negative and throwing rocks at one another is not really helpful.
“There’s always going to be things you don’t agree on but I think it’s about what processes you put in place to make sure people have a chance to air those grievances. You have robust conversations but equally that when you come out the other side it’s based on a mutual respect that you all want [the sport] to be successful. That’s certainly what I’ll be striving for, to build that relationship with my fellow CEOs.”