Canterbury Rugby League is pleased to announce Dr Phil Borell will succeed Wally Wilson QSM as CRL Chairperson.

Wilson advised he would step down from his two-year term as Chairperson at Wednesday’s Board meeting following the CRL AGM. He remains on the Board as Vice Chairperson, a role that will involve acting as a mentor for the incoming Chairperson – and allowing Canterbury Rugby League to retain Wilson’s vast knowledge of the game and its governance.

A 1981 Kiwi who captained Canterbury in 30 of his 40 appearances for the province, Wilson received a Queen’s Service Medal in 2011 for his contribution to rugby league and surf lifesaving and was recently made a Life Member of Linwood Keas.

Wally Wilson

Wilson felt he was vacating the Chairperson role with the game in a good position for the future after a tenure that included the adoption and implementation of the 2023-2027 CRL Strategic Plan, the development and pathways agreement between CRL and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, and Canterbury again being represented in national youth tournaments after a transition process in which CRL regained its identity as a separate district.

The widely respected rugby league stalwart believes that given this progress – and advancements in many other areas – the time was right to step down and activate a succession plan.

Borell, Vice Chairperson under Wilson, was nominated and accepted by the CRL Board as the new Chairperson.

A former player – with Papanui Tigers at junior level and Shirley Hawks in senior competition – lifelong rugby league fan Borell has remained closely involved with the game as a trainer.

“I’m a big-time community person, I’m still engaged with rugby league at the grassroots – I’ve got a son who’s playing in nursery grade and I’m helping Archie [Jacobs] out at the Eagles in premier grade, so the two ends of the spectrum of community rugby league,” Borell says.

“I’ve spent the last decade researching how we can improve the sport for Māori and Pasifika athletes, particularly in terms of pathways into professional rugby league.

“Part of the reason I’m keen [for the Chairperson role] is it’s an opportunity for us to really reflect our community, embrace our community and let them help us drive the sport.”

Borell is a Senior Lecturer (Above the Bar) at Aotahi: School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, having taught at UC since 2008.

Meanwhile, he earned a PhD in 2022 for his doctoral thesis, PolySaturated: illuminating the experiences of Polynesian athletes in professional rugby league¸ which provides insight into the experiences of Polynesian players by showcasing their own pūrākau (stories) as knowledge.

“One of my big goals in coming onto the Board was trying to bridge the gap between tertiary education and our sport,” Borell explains.

“Rugby league isn’t always seen as a pathway into education or even a friend of higher education – a lot of those honours and pathways into education are reserved for rugby [union], and one of the challenges I’ve always wanted to contribute to is how can we provide those same pathways for rugby league.

“Bringing the University closer to the community has been a big part of my focus, but also from the academic side, from the scholarship side – though most of my research is [focused on] professional rugby league – looking at how we can learn from that to improve everything right down to our three- and four-year-olds who are playing in that nursery grade.

“So that from there on, right up until they’re adults and seniors and giving back to the game in the ways that we are, what can we do to support them?”

Borell involvement with the rugby league community also extends to developing and facilitating the inaugural ‘Tama tū, Hapori ora Wānanga’, a kaupapa (event) initiated by CRL CEO Malcolm Humm, with the support of the Ministry of Social Development Changemakers program, earlier this year.


On top of his own rugby league and academic research journey, Borell has gained valuable governance experience and insight into Canterbury Rugby League during his term on the Board to date – which includes helping develop and implement the 2023-2027 CRL Strategic Plan.

“Being part of that process for the Strategic Plan, that’s another big driver – making sure that we hold ourselves accountable to what we said we’d do,” he enthuses.

“I think we can see the way that [Canterbury Rugby League is] trying to engage the community outside of just those 80 minutes each week on the footy field: the swimming lessons, the Changemakers stuff, the connection with the Laura Fergusson [Brain Injury] Trust.

“All of those things are looking to improve livelihoods, it’s looking to improve community and as a result will hopefully improve our sport. Malcolm [Humm] has done an amazing job, and he’s had great leadership and support from Wally, and before Wally we had Tony Kidd, and we all know where he’s at in terms of his vision for rugby league down here at the moment.”

Borell is excited about embracing the challenges and responsibilities the CRL Chairpersonship entails, bringing his unique skillset and knowledge to the role while leaning on his predecessor’s experience and expertise.

“I hope Wally will pick up my phone calls,” he jokes.

“He’s a legend, not just in terms of the governance of CRL – he’s been on the Board a number of times, chaired it twice – but he’s got a Kiwis cap, he’s done all the rep stuff, he’s a Life Member of Linwood and has been in the game since the early-sixties, there’s nothing he hasn’t done.

“As far as mentors go, you couldn’t ask for a better one. It’s certainly a challenge to step in, in the wake of someone of his mana, and I look forward to working alongside him.

“There’s huge boots to fill coming in after two chairmen who’ve been really prolific. I’m kind of the unknown – which personally gives me a fair bit of anxiety, because there might be people out there like, ‘who’s this guy?’

“I’m hoping that anyone who gets to know me over my tenure in this role will know that I’m here for the game and for the community, and that we want to reflect that community as much as possible.”

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