Raelene Castle will be an historic CEO for Rugby Australia, the first appointed after a process that involved the states as well as the national board.
For the first time, Rugby Australia brought the four Super Rugby states’ chairmen in to agree on the national boss, in a bid to bring greater alignment into the process.
It’s a move that comes as the code works towards greater collaboration, in many ways following the highly successful model New Zealand Rugby has long implemented.
Super Rugby and Sevens coaches came together earlier this year as part of a way to unify on-field strategy, agreeing to an unprecedented decision to trade player data in 2018.
Castle comes from outside the ‘traditional’ rugby circles and though she has a decade’s experience in sports administration, she comes in without any ties to a particular state union, a rarity in the code.
In that sense, Rugby AU chairman Cameron Clyne said her ‘fresh eyes’ would be critical.
“One of the reasons we brought four of the state chairmen into the interview process was to say ,'The only way rugby goes forward is to go forward together',” he said.
“It was a great opportunity for them to come in but recognise that they were seeing in Raelene in someone they could forge a relationship because there were no historical alliances to be concerned about.
“You can always look at it from both sides, coming in with rugby knowledge.
“One of the unique advantages of many of the people we deal with from a broadcast and a government partnership and those relationships already exist but also Raelene is a fresh set of eyes without traditional alliances, so that's an opportunity to go out and forge that.”
The national body’s relationship with each state, and indeed the states’ with each other, is often cited as one of the code’s greatest obstacles, and Castle said it would be a priority to strengthen those ties.
Rugby in Australia is coming off one its most difficult years domestically but Castle remained optimistic that can be turned around.
“The nature in sport is that you have challenging years,” she said.
“It was a tough year last year, no one's hiding from that, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and those opportunities are learning opportunities, we have to make sure we take them and move forward and... that relationship with the states, to make sure we all come together, is hugely important.”
Super Rugby will be one of the first key components of Castle’s tenure, starting again in February, and her marketing background will come in handy when it comes to understanding how to better sell a struggling product.
Though the off-field strategies may change, Castle said there was only one first step to encourage growth.
“I think that’s a challenge that SANZAAR recognise and we all need to be looking at that as, in a competitive sports market, how do we make those games competitive?,” she said.
“The depth issue will change now with going to four teams.
“At the end of the day everyone loves winning and that's what we want to see and we need Super Rugby to be strong.
“I'll be working closely with the CEOs in those franchises and bringing our collective thoughts together to make sure they're as successful as possible, be it on the field or also attracting members and engaging, making those events something that people want to attend.”