THE first woman, and the first New Zealander.
To many, Rugby Australia made a bold call by appointing “outsider” Raelene Castle as its new chief executive.
But RA chairman Cameron Clyne instead painted a picture of a safe pair of hands as he introduced Castle to the media on Tuesday in Sydney at her first press conference.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Castle’s presser.
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— Michael Cheika is the new Des Hasler
As Bulldogs chief executive, and coming from a netball background, Castle was tasked with shaking up an ‘old boys club’ in the NRL and will face a similar challenge in rugby union where accusations of ‘Mosman mafia’ and east coast bias abound.
She developed a strong relationship with former Bulldogs coach Des Hasler and has already spent 45 minutes with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, a similarly headstrong and sometimes eccentric personality.
“Working with a coach like Des Hasler, who is a strong personality, that will also help me when I have to forge a very strong relationship with Michael,” Castle said.
“It was just a very polite introduction at this stage.
The head coach runs the program but I think it’s important that the chief executive knows what the right questions are to ask and I think my experience in high performance — not just in the last 10 years but certainly over a long period of time — is a good thing because it allows you to ask those questions.”
LISTEN: Why Raelene Castle is the right candidate — The Splash pod
— A rugby revival is her toughest task yet
Rugby league is a rough and tumble environment and her departure from Belmore in May got pretty messy.
But leading Australian rugby out of the doldrums is a much bigger scale salvage job.
Castle is tasked with myriad challenges, from trying to help the Wallabies claim the 2019 Rugby World Cup, to restoring faith in the game to the disaffected club volunteer in Perth.
“I have used that word ‘daunting,’ but I would prefer to use ‘exciting,’ because I genuinely believe it is an exciting sport that has an international landscape that no other sport in this country has,” Castle said in explaining the task ahead.
“I think it holds a unique space and it offers something that AFL and NRL can’t offer, and that is a genuine international, and regular, international platform.
“Opportunity for athletes to travel, to travel internationally, to perform on the world stage.
“That’s something that we need to maximise.”
READ MORE: The tricky tightrope Castle must walk
— She’ll be cheering on the Wallabies
Castle was born in Wagga Wagga, where her father, a former Kiwis league rep, was earning his keep at the time as player-coach of Turvey Park.
But Castle is very much a New Zealander and will have to change her Bledisloe Cup allegiances next year.
“Certainly in the past I cheered for the All Blacks,” Castle said.
“But one of the things I’ve learnt is that going into a new organisation, when you get tasked with delivering outcomes and building relationships with people, those relationships and that success becomes very important.
“So I will be wearing my yellow scarf proudly, there’s no doubt about that.
“I think my family might be slightly split.
“Some of them will happily wear the Wallabies scarf, I think some of them might take a little more convincing.”
— A woman, but what’s the big deal?
This ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ stuff is old hat for Castle, who in 2013 also became the first woman to run an NRL club.
She appears proud to fly the flag for the female cause, but equally doesn’t quite see what all the fuss is about.
“It’s interesting that the media have an enormous fascination with it,” Castle said.
“The reality is that sport has gender equity in it, there’s people from both really delivering at grassroots level.
“So I don’t think it’s an enormous step to have a female chief executive.
“I think all businesses need to look at diversifying…
“That female market’s really hot with the launch of lots of new female competitions.
“So we know that we’re in a race and we have to be a sport of choice.
“It’s great to see what’s happening for women in sport in the landscape in Australia and rugby have led that for a long time, so we need to make sure that we keep presenting those opportunities.”
— Is this a stepping stone across the ditch?
Castle reportedly aspires to one day run New Zealand Rugby and has close ties with current NZR chief executive Steve Tew, who issued his public congratulations on Tuesday.
It will make for an interesting dynamic around the boardroom table and Castle needs more wins and more bums on seats to increase her bargaining power ahead of the new SANZAAR broadcast deal in 2020.
In the meantime, she will offer a fresh pair of eyes to rugby in Australia, which is moving towards a NZ style centralised, co-operative model.
“When I was CEO of Netball New Zealand, netball, cricket and rugby worked very closely together, sharing ideas, sharing high performance,” Castle said.
“All of those are learnings that I’ve developed, not only through that time at Netball New Zealand but also into the Bulldogs.
“I’ll be looking to bring all of those learnings into this environment and making sure that I share those with the right people.”
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