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Life goes on for the New Zealand Rugby League's board.

Bills and wages have to be paid, competitions must be organised. There is receipt of the spreadsheet from last year's World Cup to deal with and payment of the players' win bonuses. There are registration and transfer issues with players.

But for chairman Ray Haffenden - addressing the mess at the NZRL and dealing with the consequences of Sparc's damning report - it's been as if his private life has stood still, the fishing rods have gathered dust.

From a lifetime in league, these have been the toughest weeks for Haffenden.

"I'm extremely proud of this board, we took over at a very tough time with the chairman and three independent members leaving," he says.

And still there is more to do.

The league has yet to appoint a full-time chief executive, with stand-in Murray McCaw working two to three days a week and the role yet to be subject to job description and advertising.

The Sparc report into all the business of the NZRL will take some time to digest and its proposals some time to implement. Sparc wants new people on the NZRL board. But both it and current board members realise there has to be some rugby league expertise.

The chairman Ray Haffenden made it clear this week that he would put his name forward for a role in the newly revamped organisation, whether it be as board member or in higher office, as he wanted to "see the project through".

"New practices and procedures have been put in place. I think that the image of the game has already improved and that's the feedback I'm getting from our partners."

There had been many "work-in-progress" meetings to sort out problems and determine the future course of the game and the board had done a good job in the reduction of spending.

But the review was necessary, he said, to clear out bad blood and clear the decks for a better-planned and sustainable future. "I don't think any board would have gotten to the depth that the Sparc review has. I have total confidence in the process that Sparc has put in place."

That process involves the current board winding up its business at the annual meeting at the end of March and voting to accept the Sparc report and recommendations. The board will carry on until May 1 to allow new appointments to be made and then will resign en masse at a meeting on May 1, when a new board will take over with independent members appointed by a Sparc-appointed committee, along with three members voted on.

He thought all the current board members were capable and hoped all might put their names forward for selection or election.

Haffenden had a long history in the liquor industry before buying his own business, one that allowed him time flexibility to work a second job as NZRL chairman. He played the game through the grades to age 32 at the Linwood Keas club in Christchurch, then coached from club to South Island level. He took the Junior Kiwis, managed the senior side under Bob Bailey and Frank Endacott and has had two separate stints on the NZRL board. But he's taken feedback from all quarters.

"I've had dozens of cups of coffee with people I've never met. I had some good things come through - some of the things people want you just can't do, but it always opens up ideas."

And he has regular advice from a circle of close, long-term friends in the game. "I shouldn't call them the mafia but there are a lot of blokes around the country always ringing me." He likes the feel that gives him for the game, for what the provinces and clubs are thinking and talking about.

Haffenden sees many positives. The World Cup would show a slight profit. Though player numbers are low, the top levels of league can still grab the public's imagination.

"The hard part is that you can't tell people everything, you have to keep your own head on your shoulders."

Ultimately, he sees the game coming back into league hands. "It's going to take time and money but this has given us the impetus we needed. The game should now be able to expand, in Auckland and elsewhere. It was probably long overdue."

And when the game is back on an even keel, he might find time to brush the dust off those fishing rods.


Key points of the Sparc review:

* The NZRL has no cash reserves after losing lost $2.2 million in 2006 and 2007.
* Backers and sponsors have withdrawn, citing long-term management problems.
* Player numbers have dropped from a mid-1990s high of 40,000 to 16,000.
* Sparc's review cost $120,000.
* The nine-member NZRL board will resign to be replaced by a seven-member board, four of whom will be appointed by a Sparc-governed committee, which will also appoint the chairman.
* The 15 districts will be condensed into seven zones and a new constitution and voting structure will be imposed.
* Sparc will invest $450,000 this year and promises more annually, plus it will help attract money from trusts if it is satisfied with the changes.
* The review looked at the NZRL's investment in bars in the interests of transparency. The Department of Internal Affairs and the Serious Fraud Office have conducted investigations in the past.
* The review said that "for the game to move forward it is important that this episode of NZRL's history is documented and communicated to stakeholders so that the door can be closed on the past and the game can move on and focus on the future".