Now rugby league boss but liked hockey first

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2014
Phil Holden
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/Fairfax NZ
THE BOSS: New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Phil Holden with Southland District Rugby League president Cheryl Officer at the ILT Stadium in Invercargill.

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Phil Holden remembers his first introduction to rugby league as a child in Invercargill.

He never played the game - hockey was his sport as a youngster - but a couple of league games on television caught his interest.

"When I was a kid in Invercargill there was a couple of games that stick out in my mind, which was Wainuiomata versus the Mt Albert Lions game at Carlaw Park and, you know, I used to watch those games on TV on a Sunday afternoon and I would have been 11 or 12 at the time," he said.

"Then it was the Kiwis playing Australia in the early 80s, and that was something that really galvanised me, so I've always had a real interest in [league] and the people," he said.

Never would he have imagine at that time that one day he would be in charge of the game in New Zealand.

Holden, who still has family in Invercargill, attended the now-defunct Kingswell High School in the city before leaving the province in 1981.

After studying at the Otago University he worked for many high-profile organisations, both in the business sector and with sporting organisations such as the Auckland Rugby Union and the Auckland Diamonds netball franchise.

He has always kept one eye on how rugby league was progressing as a fan and then as a sponsor and funder.

That was until just over a year ago when he applied for the NZRL chief executive job and got it.

Holden took over from Jim Doyle who was put in place to fix the NZRL after, ironically, Holden was one the people who put the spotlight in 2008 on a then-dysfunctional NZRL.

Holden was chief executive of the Lion Foundation at the time and they were one of New Zealand Rugby League's key funders.

The Lion Foundation, along with Sport NZ, pulled the funding for the NZRL until they sorted the governancet, and they did just that under the guidance Doyle. The turnaround was that impressive that when Doyle stood down Holden wanted to be part of it.

He said the role appealed to him not just because of the chance to be involved with an elite sport again but because he felt rugby league was having a positive impact on many New Zealand people.

Holden mixed a family visit in with work in Invercargill this week.

On Thursday at a Sport Southland function he spoke to various Southland sporting organisations about his experiences in his roles and also touched on New Zealand Rugby Leagues plans.

Later in the day he deliveredthe NZRL "Playbook" to the Southland rugby league community, which highlights their targets for the next three years.

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- The Southland Times

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