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Raelene Castle needs to make calls on Folau, Foley and Force

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Expert
6th September, 2018
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6217 Reads

It could be worse for Raelene Castle; at least she doesn’t have to mop up the mess from Canterbury’s Mad Monday bender.

And if you listen to Julie Bishop, it isn’t all roses if you’re a driven and ambitious female in the federal Liberal Party.

But Castle’s job is as formidable and onerous as it was when she began at the start of this year.

Castle took on the gig as Rugby Australia chief executive with the game struggling financially and emotionally. The Wallabies were being battered and the Western Force had recently been cut from the Super Rugby competition. Crowds were down and discontent was up. Wins were scarce and criticism was common.

She was facing a huge task to turn the tide.

So how has Castle gone so far, just nine months into the job?

Castle is falling behind if you consider some of the main objectives that she would’ve been lining up.

Big-name Wallabies trio Michael Hooper, Israel Folau and Bernard Foley were all off contract at the end of 2018. Only Hooper has been re-signed, we are into September and there’s a World Cup next year.

Israel Folau Wallabies Australian Rugby Union 2017 tall

AAP Image/Joe Castro

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Another big deal is deciding what to do with the Western Force and getting some kind of direction on their future.

Do they bring Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest into the Rugby AU tent? Do they compromise and make Force players eligible for the Wallabies even if they’re not playing Super Rugby? Do they legitimise World Series Rugby or brush it?

Still, nothing substantial has been announced by RA over a year since they were cut and despite Forrest making clear his intentions.

And what about the Penrith Emus? Axed from the Sydney competition earlier this season, Castle had a perfect opportunity to make a statement about the importance of club rugby. There’s a strategic element to it, given western Sydney’s size, but also a sentimental side to it as club rugby needs to get some love from the top.

Of course it’s complicated. But has there been a commitment from RA about helping to secure the Emus’ future? Not that I’ve seen.

Castle has been working on what Super Rugby looks like post-2020 when the current broadcast contract expires. She’s helped get Matt Toomua back to Australia. The women’s Super W and Uni 7s competitions have started, although they were initiatives from the end of the Bill Pulver years.

A lot of the issues in the game can’t be blamed on Castle. The Wallabies winning one of their last seven games isn’t her fault. Neither are the Brumbies’ woeful home crowds, the fisticuffs between the two Melbourne Rebels players, the cocaine couple at the Queensland Reds, Quade Cooper’s Reds exile, the poor showings by the men and women at the Sevens World Cup, the lack of Super Rugby improvement despite the Force’s axing.

Castle was most vocal publicly when replying to the Folau ‘Gays to Hell’ tweet, although conveniently ignoring that an RA sponsor, Qantas, is in a commercial alliance with Emirates, based in a nation where homosexuals are significantly oppressed.

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And she didn’t mince her words when describing another of the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup failures as “not acceptable”, although she did back Michael Cheika as coach until the next World Cup.

Michael Cheika Australia Rugby Union Wallabies 2017

Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The RA fortress isn’t crumbling, but Castle’s hardly been highly noticeable in announcing good news and direction for her sport. Good news might be hard to come by at the moment, but bold and assertive leadership can at least give confidence that things will soon turn around.

Sure, contract negotiations can be complex. But to leaving two of RA’s biggest player assets – Folau and Foley – still unsigned is dangerous.

The rugby public want some updates. They want decisions made. If they’re going to keep the faith, the fans want to know things are progressing.

Is Folau staying or going back to the NRL? It’s September! Where’s an update on the Force and WSR – is it dead, alive or somewhere in between? Will RA pump some money into the Penrith Emus? Will they pump some cash into other clubs that are struggling? Will they pump more money into clubs that are worthy because of their proven record in promoting juniors and the game in general?

Politicians will tell you that the electorate want to be engaged. They expect to be informed. The news cycle is daunting and relentless, but nonetheless important. And while Castle isn’t publicly elected, she could do worse than to embrace that rationale.

Castle has time on her side – she’s still relatively fresh to the job. And of course the rugby public aren’t privy to the complexities of negotiations that may explain the reasons for delays in decision-making.

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But regardless, they want to know where the game is going and need to be fed.

Raelene Castle needs to come up with some decisions.