On the score of experience, along with service to – and passion for – rugby league in Canterbury, few people are better credentialed to fill the role of CRL President than Neville Diggs.

An absolute stalwart of our game, Diggs takes over the role from Gary Clarke, who has served as President since May 2018.

Like his predecessor, Diggs’ involvement in rugby league did not subside at the conclusion of an esteemed playing career, which featured long stints as a front-rower with Sydenham and Marist-Western Suburbs, and representative honours with Canterbury and South Island.

He was the Canterbury provincial team’s manager for nine years in the 1980s and ‘90s, during Ray Haffenden’s and Frank Endacott’s reigns as coach, and has served on countless committees.

At a time when it has become increasingly difficult to find people to put their hand up for administrative posts, Diggs regards his latest appointment as an honour.

“I’ve been on a lot of club committees and all of that – these days people just don’t seem to want to do that sort of thing, people play their football and disappear,” Diggs says.

“To be on the (Canterbury Rugby League) Board is quite an honour, really, so I grabbed it straightaway. I’m quite privileged to be one of them.”

Diggs is still a regular at junior football – a fervent supporter of grassroots rugby league’s lifeblood.

“I’ve got a grandson playing for Halswell, so I follow him, and I go out to Ngā Puna Wai on a Monday night to watch the 16s and 18s – I enjoy that,” he enthuses.

Eager to roll up his sleeves and contribute as CRL President, Diggs is hopeful others will follow his lead for the good of the game.

“Some of the clubs are starting to fold a bit and I think we just need more administrators involved. Even the well-to-do clubs are finding it hard to get administrators. Hardly anyone goes to AGMs.

“We need to do these sort of things to keep the game going, get more young people involved in this side of the game to keep the clubs going.”

Diggs’ playing days wound up more than 50 years ago. He emerged as a hooker/prop for Sydenham in the late-1950s, back in the unlimited tackle era when scrums were vital and not for the fainthearted.

Diggs regards his Canterbury debut against France as a 20-year-old in 1960 as a career highlight. He also represented South Island against North Island that year in what was essentially a trial for the New Zealand’s World Cup squad; he was fated to be the only member of the South Island pack not to play for the Kiwis.

He transferred to Marist (later Marist-Western Suburbs) in 1963 and retired after the club’s 1969 Grand Final loss to Hornby, where he was a non-playing reserve forward (the non-playing reserve back was none other than John Coffey).

But Diggs cemented his legacy as one of CRL’s finest servants off the paddock – and he treasures the memories of being involved in arguably the greatest occasion in the provincial side’s history.

“Another highlight was when I was manager of the Canterbury team for Frank and we played Auckland at the Showgrounds for the Rugby League Cup. The Showgrounds was ‘chocka’,” Diggs recalls of the famous 36-12 victory over a star-studded Auckland side in 1993.

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