David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Backslaps due for Erakovic and Castle's astounding wins

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I'm not sure if Marina Erakovic and Raelene Castle have ever met. If they had yesterday, it would have been backslaps all round.

Erakovic whooped, jigged and fist-pumped her away around the Roland Garros court after beating her 16th-seeded Slovak opponent Dominika Cibulkova to advance to the French Open's third round.

Life isn't meant to get easier as you progress and so she faces rising 17th-seeded American Sloane Stephens tomorrow. Still, equal best performance at a Grand Slam - level with Wimbledon five years ago - has put a spring in the 25-year-old's step.

Twenty five. It doesn't seem that long ago that she was 16, laughing with schoolmates from Glendowie College after beating teary-eyed Canadian qualifier Marie-Eve Pelletier before a joyous Auckland crowd. Or three years later bundling out top-seeded Russian Vera Zvonareva en route to the semifinals.

Since then there have been slips. However Erakovic has carved a reputation as someone who can trouble better-ranked players, got as high as No 39 a year ago herself, is No 92 now but will improve after this fortnight, come what may tomorrow. Consistency has been her issue.

Beat Stephens and, almost certainly, Erakovic faces the shrieking second seed Maria Sharapova. Still, one step at a time, just as it is for Castle, who is moving on from her successful stint as chief executive of Netball New Zealand.

With due respect to that sport, Castle faces a larger, and potentially more bruising challenge overseeing the Bulldogs of the National Rugby League. The daughter of a former Kiwis captain, Bruce Castle, she grew up in a league household, so she'll know her five-tackle kick rule.

But imagine the first meeting of the NRL chief executives. Where once it was 16 men hunched around a table, sleeves rolled up engaged in robust conversation over the game's issues, now it'll be 15 men and a woman. Just one seat, but a significantly changed dynamic in the room.

Let's be clear. This isn't tokenism. What would possibly persuade the Bulldogs, who have had their share of ugly off-field issues in the past decade, to think hiring a woman now is going to rectify an image problem?

If they were of that mind, it would have been done at any of the points where they had transgressed.

Call Castle's appointment a merit-based selection if you will. At that level you don't mess about with popularity contests. You want the best person in the key roles. In the board's view, Castle was the best candidate, ergo a straightforward decision.

Her people skills are strong and she is not afraid to back policies which aren't surefire winners. Witness the restructuring of netball into zones (a hit) or trying to get Cathrine Latu into a black singlet for the 2011 world champs (a miss).

Castle also doesn't appeal as someone who'll roll over to the heavy mob. Not that she needs it, but all power to her arm.

- NZ Herald

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