Highly-respected administrator Raelene Castle has been given the nod to lead the revival of rugby union in Australia.
Raelene Castle has reportedly been appointed the next Chief Executive of Rugby Australia.
The formal announcement is expected to be made today, but it is certain that she will replace Bill Pulver in the demanding role, edging out former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns and no less than 100 initial applicants.
It is being celebrated as a watershed moment in Australian sport. It will be the first time a woman has been appointed CEO of one of the nation’s major football codes.
Ms Castle was the NRL’s first female club boss — guiding the Canterbury Bulldogs for four years, and prior to that held the CEO position at Netball New Zealand.
The decision supports the code’s intention to start afresh, having rebranded the governing body from the Australian Rugby Union to Rugby Australia and moving its headquarters to the Moore Park precinct in October.
The code has long needed an administrator capable of resurrecting the game in Australia. Poor results on the field at the elite level have underscored the sport’s declining popularity and participation at the grassroots level.
As The CEO Magazine highlighted in October, Roy Morgan Research indicated rugby union was only the 26th most popular sport for Australians aged 14 and over, with the 15-a-side game only attracting 55,000 participants in 2016 — the same number of active ballroom dancers.
Ms Castle hails from the land of the long white cloud and lists New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew as a mentor. Australian Rugby could certainly do worse than be influenced by the Kiwi rugby system.
She takes the head job at a crucial time, as Rugby Australia needs to improve its bargaining power before the next round of broadcast rights are negotiated for 2021.