Baxter brings a lifetime’s experience to CRL President role
On the score of experience, along with service to – and passion for – rugby league in Canterbury, few people are better credentialed to take on the role of CRL President than Gary Baxter.
Baxter’s association with the code stretches back to 1961, when he began playing in the Halswell Hornets’ junior ranks, while he has 42 years of active service as a referee to his name.
The 64-year-old also has more than three decades’ experience in an administrative capacity for the Canterbury Rugby League Referees’ Association, currently serves as the body’s President, and stood on the CRL Board of Control as the referees’ delegate for five years.
“When I was approached, I thought, ‘am I the type of person they’re looking for?’,” ‘Ghosty’ Baxter said of the CRL presidency.
“I’ve got a huge love of the game in Canterbury and with my long involvement, hopefully people feel I’m a respected person in the game. I think I’ve got a really balanced outlook in regards to the clubs and their endeavours.
“Even though I’ve got some involvement (with the Referees’ Association), I can see it from both sides of the fence, as it were.
“More so it’s a figurehead role, but I see it as representing Canterbury Rugby League where they see fit and where they’d like me to attend.”
Baxter played rugby league up to under-19s level before injuries intervened. However, after working with stalwart referee Peter Yaxley, Baxter was encouraged to pick up the whistle – and he became a mainstay of the CRL club scene from the 1970s and through the halcyon 1980s-1990s era.
He controlled the 1992 grand final between Papanui and Sydenham, the same year he handled one of Papua New Guinea’s tour matches, while Baxter was also involved in the memorable Canterbury v Auckland rep clashes during the early-1990s – including as touch judge for the unforgettable red-and-blacks victory at Addington Showgrounds in 1993.
“Doing a grand final was always the pinnacle of refereeing in Canterbury and it was just nice to get one,” Baxter said.
Baxter also fondly recalls the short-lived Lion Red Cup, which saw him referee Canterbury Country Cardinals and Christchurch City Shiners matches.
He was still refereeing president’s grade games in Canterbury in 2015, but knee and back ailments have finally forced Baxter into retirement.
Baxter is equally revered in cricket umpiring circles, progressing quickly through to the first-class ranks after starting out in the 1986-87 summer and eventually joining the ICC’s International Panel of Umpires and Referees in 2000.
He stood in 38 ODIs and 16 Twenty20 internationals from 2005 – including handling the third umpire duties for some of the most memorable trans-Tasman ODI matches ever played during the mid-to-late-2000s – and was umpiring at first-class level up until just over a year ago.
Baxter echoed the overwhelming sentiment that there’s great times ahead for rugby league in Canterbury after a lengthy, challenging period.
“I think it looks exciting. The endeavours to get this ground (at Nga Puna Wai) up and running and to possibly have a team based in an Australian competition, all those things are exciting and there’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work in the background trying to make this happen,” he enthused.
“We just have to keep our fingers crossed that Canterbury Rugby League can keep things going.
“I feel we had some big backwards steps in losing our park, and I feel we’ve been pushed in the background.
“Hopefully we’re fighting back and we come out strong.”
Through good times and bad, Baxter has been a steadfast, passionate supporter and servant of the code, and it’s those traits that are sure to underpin his term as CRL President.
“I’ve enjoyed my sport and whatever I do in sport, so I just hope I can fulfil whatever obligations that go with the role.”