Get ’em Onside was lucky enough to recently get in contact with the former Hull FC player and, later, general manager Motu Tony to talk about rugby league and his current endeavours.
Initially arriving in Super League with Castleford Tigers following a move from the NRL’s Brisbane Broncos, Tony admitted what first struck him about the game in this country. “The passion of the supporters was obvious right away. In NZ and Australia there were passionate supporters but it seemed like every rugby league fan in the UK was a mad supporter of their team,” he explained, further adding that “the weather is a bit different, too!” While the sport in this country is by no means as big as it is Down Under, it is the belief of the former New Zealand international that the game itself is it’s greatest asset; it is a great sport. “The clubs need to expand the exposure of rugby league and it’s fan base,” Tony articulated, believing that expansion is a great thing for the sport.
This belief, shared by Get ’em Onside, comes fresh after arguably the best RLWC ever in 2017. Coming from his boardroom role with Hull FC, Tony suggests he is in a position of understanding about where the game needs to continue holistic development, saying that the success of the World Cup – especially from the Pacific nations of Tonga and Fiji – shows the potential. Furthermore, the 36 year old insists that “clubs in Super League and NRL as well as the Rugby League International Federation need to have dialogue and see if we can create an international calendar that works for all parties, including the players.” This statement is coming at a time when the NRL are seemingly trying to block the Denver test, a test which is designed to expand the game to one of the most exciting potential market for the sport.
It would be fair to say that Tony does certainly know what he is talking about; he helped Hull FC turn a corner and become a real threat in UK rugby league. Before he re-joined the club as General Manager of Rugby in 2014, the Airlie Birds hadn’t finished in the Super League top four since 2007 and had finished in the lower reaches of the competition too many times for their fans’ liking. In Tony’s maiden campaign in his role, the club did so again, finishing eleventh out of 14 teams. Thereafter, however, the club began their rapid improvements. Two years later, in 2016, before the play offs Hull FC were first and, while they finished third after seven further matches, they had already added silverware to their cabinet.
That year saw the club get their first ever Wembley win – 12-10 over Warrington Wolves – and they would repeat the feat the following year by defeating Wigan Warriors 18-14. They were close to reaching only a second ever Grand Final, and their first during Tony’s tenure, last season but lost 18-16 to Leeds. Nevertheless, the successes in London and improvements in Super League wouldn’t have happened had the club not been able to bring in quality players while also develop youth products. During his time at the club, Tony was able to assist in bringing in foreign talents such as Albert Kelly, Carlos Tuimavave and Mark Minichello, British stars such as Marc Sneyd and Scott Taylor while also bringing youth through the club in the form of current first teamers Jamie Shaul and, more recently, Dean Hadley and Jordan Abdull to name just two. He has overseen a period where the club has strength in depth and an admirable youth system. When asked what he had done differently to his predecessors to achieve success, Tony explained that “having been a Hull FC player, I knew what sort of players would not only succeed at the Club but also help the club succeed. Fortunately, I had a chairman who was able to provide the financial resources needed to build a playing and coaching staff. Lee Radford and I were also on the same page as to what direction we needed to head to be successful so it just worked so well.”
Since leaving the Humberside club, Tony has returned to New Zealand. It was suggested that he may take up a similar role from that at Hull FC with an NRL club but he explained that “I did have some discussions with NRL clubs but the timing was not quite right and New Zealand is a sports mad country so I was also open to working in a different sport.” Instead, he has recently taken the role of CEO with Baseball NZ. Speaking of his appointment, Tony said that “I was fortunate that the Board of Directors of Baseball NZ reached out to me upon my return which brought upon this current opportunity. It is an exciting time for baseball in NZ with a professional team on the horizon and many of our young athletes playing baseball in the US.”