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SYDNEY (AP) — Raelene Castle will take over as chief executive officer at Rugby Australia next month, becoming the first woman to lead one of the major national unions in world rugby.
Castle, who has been CEO at Netball New Zealand and at the Canterbury Bulldogs in Australia's National Rugby League, will replace Bill Pulver on Jan. 15.
Rugby Australia Chairman Cameron Clyne announced the appointment Tuesday, saying Castle was the standout applicant among more than 200 candidates.
"The reality is sport has gender equity in it," Castle said. "So I don't think it's an enormous step to have a female chief executive. I'm excited about the opportunity.
"My experience in rugby league was very strong. I don't expect my experience in rugby union to be any different."
Castle's other governance roles in sport have included serving as a board director of the International Federations of Netball Associations and as chair of the NRL club CEOs leadership group.
Clyne said Castle would bring "a fresh set of eyes to the challenges and opportunities at Rugby Australia."
"Through her most recent roles as CEO of the Bulldogs and Netball New Zealand, Raelene has led sporting organizations at both a national and club level, giving her an in-depth understanding of what it takes to run a national sporting body as well as the unique challenges for clubs and the importance of building strong relationships and a unity of purpose within," the sport, Clyne said. "Raelene is an extremely impressive executive who covered every base as far as what the board was looking for in a chief executive officer to lead our game into an important new chapter."
Castle was born in Australia and moved to New Zealand as a child, returning to Sydney in 2013 to take the job at the Bulldogs.
Castle is the first woman to lead one of Australia's four national football governing bodies, and Rugby Australia said she is the first woman to lead one of the world's top-tier rugby national governing bodies.
"I am especially looking forward to getting out into the rugby communities across Australia and meeting the diverse range of people that make the game tick," Castle said. "Having followed rugby closely for over 30 years and having worked in the New Zealand and Australian sporting environments for the past 10, there is no doubt Australian rugby has a clear international and domestic offering for both male and female athletes that can be further developed and strengthened."
Rugby in Australia has had a tumultuous year, with months of uncertainty leading up to the scrapping of the Western Force from the Super Rugby tournament and some setbacks for the Wallabies on the field — including a 15th consecutive series loss to World Cup champion New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew was among the first to congratulate Castle, saying the appointment heralded a new era for the sport.
"We congratulate Raelene on her appointment, which is an acknowledgement of her strength as a leader, and her ability to drive success both on and off the field," Tew said in a statement. "I have known Raelene for a number of years, and have a huge regard for her. We are really looking forward to working with her."