South Sydney’s new boss won’t shy away from the feisty NRL boardroom battles, having earned praised for saving rugby league in England from “civil war”.
A relative unknown in his native Australia, Blake Solly was on Wednesday appointed Rabbitohs’ chief executive following an 11-year stint in England where he most recently held the position of Super League general manager.
And rival Super League bosses are united in their belief that Solly’s work in reforming rugby league in the northern hemisphere has set the perfect platform for him to conquer NRL clubland.
“He might’ve come through under the radar to a certain degree, but he’s a very shrewd and canny operator,” Warrington Wolves chief executive Roger Draper told AAP.
“He gets things done and gets the relationship side which is very important.”
The NRL is filled with hugely influential club bosses who regularly butt heads with the games officials, but Draper insists Solly won’t be intimidated or back down from a scrap.
“When Blake came in (in May 2014) there was, in inverted commas, “civil war” going on between the RFL and the Super League clubs,” Draper added.
“Blake has managed to navigate his way through that and brought a sense of unity.
“It’s always a tricky relationship dealing with a disparate group of clubs who are all very competitive with each other, but one of the things he’s done well is making it cooperative as well as competitive.
“Speak to anyone across the 12 Super League clubs and I don’t think anyone will have a bad word to say about Blake Solly – he’s not just a very good commercial thinker, he’s also a really good guy as well.”
Solly is credited with raising the profile of the Super League, due to his role in expanding the World Club Series to a three-match event and the evolution of the Magic Weekend – where all fixtures of one round are played at the same venue over one weekend.
St Helens CEO Mike Rush said Solly’s exit leaves a gaping hole for the English game to fill.
“He’s a massive loss. He brought Super League together and put us on a path when we very much needed it,” Rush said.
“We’ll miss him. It’s a key appointment of who replaces him in our competition.”
Rush said Solly’s training as a lawyer would serve him well in navigating the NRL minefield, and would perfectly complement the skills of South Sydney general manager Shane Richardson – whose focus will be primarily on football matters.
“His schooling will suit the NRL where there’s a lot of clubland versus the governing body battles going on at the moment,” Rush added.
“His background in law, combined with understanding the governing body, is an ideal fit for Souths.”