The 2023 CRL Junior Rugby League season gets underway on Saturday – and Whitehead Plumbing & Gas are on board as valued naming rights sponsors for the fifth consecutive year.

Whitehead Plumbing & Gas have been behind Canterbury’s junior competitions since 2019, sticking solid through the arduous – for business and community sport – COVID-19 period and their support for rugby league’s youngest participants remains steadfast as ever.

Proudly operating in Canterbury for 45 years, Whitehead Plumbing & Gas currently have a 25-strong staff of plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers. The maintenance firm services all plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying requirements, including light commercial, school fit-outs, bars, restaurants and architectural homes.

“We are very appreciative of the support we get from Whitehead Plumbing & Gas,” Canterbury Rugby League CEO Malcolm Humm says.

“Our juniors programme, which has an increasing number of girls playing, is fundamental to the sustainability of our sport. A key goal of the CRL 2023-26 Strategic Plan is to provide safe and enjoyable experiences for all, and this type of support certainly helps us achieve this desired outcome through coach development, officiating, and event planning and delivery.”

It was a sliding doors moment for Whitehead Plumbing & Gas general manager (now managing director) and avid Warriors fan Paul Olsen – coinciding with Ngā Puna Wai’s unveiling as the new home of Canterbury Rugby League in 2019 – that led to the vital and long-running partnership between the company and CRL’s juniors.

“The Warriors’ (NSW Cup) team was playing the (Canterbury) Bulls at Ngā Puna Wai and I saw there was an opportunity to get a (personalised) Bulls jersey and tickets to the game for $1,000 donation,” Olsen recalls.

“So I did that and the rest is history … we did a three-year contract and we’ve kept renewing it year on year.

Whitehead Plumbing & Gas’ Paul Olsen (right) with former CRL CEO Duane Fyfe at the 2019 season launch.

“I like community sports, we have sponsored other sports over the years giving back to the community and giving back to the kids. It’s about giving people the opportunity to play league. If you don’t have sponsorship in these areas, a lot of things can’t be achieved or put in place for the game.

“(Fellow managing director) Mark Whitehead is a rugby man, so signing with Canterbury Rugby League he had to bite his tongue,” Olsen chuckles, “but it was more about the opportunity to get our name out there and supporting the younger generation in sport.”

Born and bred on the West Coast, Olsen played rugby league as a youngster for the Suburbs club.

Since Whitehead Plumbing & Gas linked with Canterbury Rugby League, he’s renewed his association with the game as a player as part of Papanui Tigers’ Masters team – “you still hurt on Sunday morning, I’ll tell you that,” Olsen winces.

This weekend’s Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Junior Rugby League season kick-off is extra special for Olsen as his four-year-old son gets ready to rip in on debut for the Tigers in the nursery grade.

“He’s excited to be like dad, wear the famous Tigers jersey – I think mum’s a bit nervous.”


When COVID-19 crash-tackled grassroots sport in 2020, Canterbury Rugby League was presented with unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts – particularly from a funding and financial standpoint.

But despite navigating uncharted waters as a business, Whitehead Plumbing & Gas’ support of our juniors was unwavering. Ultimately it was a period that fortified the partnership and has helped it flourish in smoother times.

“The two years (of COVID) was a bit tough, turnover was down, money was going out the door more than it was going in so it would have been easy to cut back on those sort of areas (like sponsorship),” Olsen admits.

“But it was something I felt we still needed to do. We got through it with workload, we got through it with staff … I felt it was really important to keep supporting Canterbury Rugby League through those times.

“And CRL showed support for Whitehead Plumbing as well by reaching out and doing more than they were supposed to do – they put our logo on the balls and had another couple of little events when we’ve had the opportunity.

“These kinds of sponsorships are a bit like a marriage, it’s got to work both ways and (CRL CEO) Malcolm (Humm) has done really well making the most of supporting of our firm this year and last year.”

Olsen heaped praise on Canterbury Rugby League for its commitment to the arrangement with Whitehead Plumbing & Gas and its forward-thinking initiatives.

He’s also excited about the direction the code is heading in the region.

“The CRL team have done a great job. (Former CEO) Duane (Fyfe) and Malcolm have always made me feel comfortable, and they are always trying to embrace the league community but also make the game better for next year – they always try and do new things,” Olsen says.

“We’re not a stagnant game. Numbers go up and down, but rugby league has a strong community – that’s what I like about it. I like playing the game because I like the people around me. I think it’s changed a bit over the years and for the best, and I’m looking forward to what it will look like in years to come.

“We’ve got a strong (region) in Canterbury and some great players coming through. It’s exciting to see where they could potentially be in years to come. If I could say there was a couple of juniors from my comp that I supported and they became NRL stars, that would be pretty cool to sit back and watch.”

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