AS THE Rugby Football League begins its search for a new chief executive, the outgoing Nigel Wood continues to polarise opinion.
That is perhaps no surprise for the head of a governing body who has ruled for a full decade. It comes with the territory.
Some will loathe you and not many will actually love you, as such, while it is probably hard to decipher what impact you truly had until some years from now.
Regardless, Wood, who became the chief executive of the RFL and Super League in 2007, announced yesterday he would stand down this month, conceding it was “the right time.”
His position had already been undermined somewhat after he was recently removed from the board of Super League, the clubs having achieved a 75 per cent majority to make a constitutional change. It is thought Wood – Halifax Blue Sox chief executive before initially joining the RFL in 2001 – is lined up as the next Rugby League International Federation chief executive when David Collier’s deal ends in May.
Chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer will act as interim chief executive while the RFL Board begin the search for Wood’s replacement and there should be no shortage of candidates.
There has been a clamour for someone of recent playing experience to take on the top administration roles in the sport in a bid to bring a greater understanding of what is needed to take the game forward.
By that token, Kevin Sinfield, the legendary former Leeds Rhinos and England captain who joined the RFL as rugby director just 18 months ago, could be seen as a potential replacement although maybe, at just 37, the opportunity will come too soon.
The same could be said of Jamie Peacock, another ex-England captain and Sinfield’s former team-mate at Headingley, who has taken his first steps into management as Hull KR head of rugby and with the England national side. It will be intriguing to see if any of the powerbrokers at club level will fancy switching to the governing body or if someone from outside of the sport completely will be brought in with a fresh perspective.
What is certain is that the RFL board has to take its time to ensure it makes the right appointment for the good of the game’s long-term future at what is a delicate crossroads again.
Wood has enjoyed successes, delivering profits in each consecutive year of his reign, while he was behind the introduction of Magic Weekend, first brought into the sport in 2008, and secured the biggest commercial deal in the sport’s history with long-term broadcast partner Sky Sports in 2014.
Furthermore, he delivered the game’s greatest-ever coach Wayne Bennett as England boss, integrated the likes of Catalans and Toronto into the domestic leagues and played his part in an excellent home 2013 World Cup.
But critics will point at falling participation levels, the disbanded licensing system, Crusaders’ demise, his handling of the Bradford Bulls situation – buying Odsal, giving the green light to new owners who failed – and one infamous doomed sponsorship deal, all as negatives.
“I am extremely honoured and privileged to have served as chief executive of the Rugby Football League,” said Wood, who was one of the two original creators of Super League Ltd and instrumental in devising the Grand Final concept in 1998.
“I am an unashamed rugby league fan and can think of no greater honour that be asked to fulfil the role of CEO for the Rugby Football League.
“However leadership presents many tests, and the greatest of these is to recognise when it is time to step out and this is the right moment to do so.
“I would like to place on record my unreserved thanks to the many excellent colleagues, the clubs and all those that I have worked with throughout the last 16 years and wish them the best of luck for the future.”
RFL chairman Brian Barwick said: “Nigel has been a superb administrator, innovator and advocate for the sport of rugby league in this country.
“His range of achievements in the sport speak for themselves and he has brought a genuine love of the game to his work over many years.
“His time at the helm of the RFL will always be looked upon warmly and with great respect.”