New Western Force CEO Aims to Emulate Success of NZ Champions
Former WA rugby union representative Tony Lewis will look to emulate the success of New Zealand’s champion province, the Tasman Mako, in developing talented young players after being appointed the new Chief Executive Officer of the Western Force.
Lewis played for the Western Suburbs club (now Wests Scarborough) while living in Perth in the late 1980s, and represented the State in 1987, before later making a successful transition into sporting administration.
His recruitment is a coup for the Force and a key part of owner Dr Andrew Forrest’s plan to build the Perth-based franchise into the dominant trans-Tasman force in Super Rugby.
Lewis has been the CEO of the Tasman Rugby Union for seven years, during which time the Mako has emerged as New Zealand’s champion provincial team and become a production line for Super Rugby and international players. The Mako won back-to-back New Zealand provincial titles in 2019 and 2020 and have appeared in a total of five grand finals, despite being the country’s newest team.
The success of the Mako is widely credited to the strong Academy system established by Lewis when he was appointed Tasman CEO in 2013, something Dr Forrest wants to emulate in WA to reinvigorate grass roots rugby at both school and club level.
“Tony’s appointment is another key building block for the Force and underlines my drive for Western Australia to have the best Academy system across all of Australian sport, through which we can develop, recruit and retain the best young players, just as the Mako have done so successfully in New Zealand,” said Dr Forrest.
“This program will not only strengthen local club and school rugby, but also help support the success of the Wallabies as the Force looks to produce more international players.
“I am passionate about ensuring our young sports people – and their families – have the clearest possible pathway and best coaching resources in Australia available right here in Western Australia to achieve their full potential.”
While at the helm of the Mako, Lewis also oversaw the development of a high-performance culture, in partnership with the champion Crusaders Super Rugby franchise, which has produced a regular flow of Super players, including seven All Blacks and six New Zealand 7s players, along with six coaches who have gone on to coach at Super Rugby level.
Lewis said he was extremely excited about being appointed CEO of a team with such a passionate history and supporter base.
“To head up an organisation with such an exciting future is a role any leader would grab with both hands, especially given the vision of Andrew and Nicola Forrest for the Force to be a trans-Tasman Super Rugby powerhouse,” said Lewis, who played representative rugby in New Zealand for Otago, South Island and New Zealand Universities.
“The leadership style I’ll be bringing to the Force from all my experiences at the Mako and across professional sport will aim to allow management, staff, players and coaches to achieve excellence on and off the field. Our values and culture will drive how everyone within the club relates to their team-mates, volunteers, fans and Perth’s enthusiastic rugby community.
“Having lived and played rugby in Western Australia, I know first-hand there is a thriving rugby culture in the State. I can’t wait to work with everyone connected to the Western Force – from the girls and boys across club and school competitions, RugbyWA, sponsors and suppliers and our fantastic Sea of Blue supporters.
“There is no reason for Perth not to be a destination of choice for aspiring young rugby players, and that is certainly one of the goals I will be seeking to achieve.”
Before his role as Tasman CEO, Tony was General Manager at Sydney’s Randwick Rugby Club, and NSW Cricket SpeedBlitz Blues High Performance and Player Welfare Manager. He has coached professionally in the UK and taught physical education in Perth, London and NZ. Developing strong commercial relationships with commercial partners has been another hallmark of his career in sports administration.
Mark Evans will continue as CEO until Tony begins in the role on 1 February. Mark made the difficult decision to resign in late 2019 when COVID-19 travel restrictions combined with family in the UK made it impossible to carry out the role long term. Dr Forrest paid tribute to Mark, who he described as an exceptional leader for the club during unprecedented times. Mark’s achievements included progressing the innovative Global Rapid Rugby into a full competition before COVID-19 forced its shut down, and leading the Force back into Super Rugby AU.
“The club, staff and players all wish to thank Mark for his leadership through difficult times, including his dedication to the club whilst working remotely from the UK to be with his family,” said Dr Forrest.