Written by Stuart McLennan
Phill Browne embraces rugby league across all its elements; as a fan, player, referee, administrator and business owner.
Browne set up the ‘Australian Fijian Rugby League’ in 2003 to provide Australian based Fijians a pathway to gain selection into the national team so Fiji could put out the strongest team possible.
The ‘Battle of the Bati’ match, a game between the Australian Fijians and Fiji Residents to then select the national team was established.
With so many Fijians in the NRL and relevant pathway systems, almost all the national team are full-time professional players in 2020.
Browne played for the Australian Fijians on a number of occasions prompting Joe Daukuitoga (Fiji Bati Head Coach) to call him into the national team for a match against the Cook Islands in 2005 in Coffs Harbour. He describes it as “one of the best days of my life!”
The international rugby league fanatic moved to London to take up the position of CEO at the London Skolars in 2009 before setting up Oztag in the UK.
If that’s not enough he refereed at the Scandinavian RL 9s in Oslo, Norway and Malta Vs Denmark at Marsa stadium in Malta in 2012.
He was part of the support team for the USA Hawks in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup
Phill is back in Sydney and is Owner/Director and the Southern Hemisphere half of online international rugby league merchandise retailer Mascord Brownz.
First time I saw rugby league
I think the first game I saw was when I was 6 years of age. My Dad took me along with him to Brookvale Oval to watch Manly play, back when they had those old Wormald jerseys. At the time I started as a Parramatta Eels supporter because Peter Sterling was my favourite player but soon after, I changed allegiances to the Manly Sea Eagles who I’ve supported ever since. My favourite players were Cliff Lyons, Geoff Toovey, Darrell Williams & the Iro brothers.
First I time I played rugby league
My first game of Rugby League was in the U/5’s for the North Curl Curl Knights. This was the junior club of the great Terry Randall which played in the Manly junior league. I used to love playing footy with my mates every Saturday.
The grade above were always a few players short so I often got the tap on the shoulder to stay back and sit on the bench to give them some extra players.
The age group above won 10 premierships in a row and featured players like Chad Randall, George Smith (later became a Wallaby but was always a Rugby League junior), Josh Gamgee (Australia RU 7s) to name a few.
It was always a pleasure to be asked to play with such a wonderful bunch of players. I remember they won a game 60-0 with only 12 players (a player down and with no subs).
First team I followed
Manly Sea Eagles are my team due to living in the area but I also support expansion teams as I believe this sport is too good to not be played around the world. I have a soft spot for the NZ Warriors and the Melbourne Storm. I would like to see a Perth team back in the NRL in the near future.
First player of any era I would pick in my dream team
As a youngster, I was in awe of the great Mal Meninga. He was unstoppable at times. It must have been a nightmare having to mark him in defence! I’d have to say followed closely by Andrew Johns. One of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen.
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First non Tier 1 country I would you like to see win the World Cup
With my father being born and raised in Fiji, I would love to see Fiji win the RLWC one day.
I’d also love to see France being a powerhouse in the sport again one day. If only they didn’t get their assets taken away from them during the Vichy regime, who knows where they’d be today. I’m a big supporter of all things French RL, I went to a Toulouse game in 2018 and I wear my Toulouse jersey often.
First thing I would change in rugby league
If I were in charge of the RLIF, the first thing I would do is lock in a 5 year calendar. I’m envious that Rugby Union fans know the Six Nations fixtures 2 years in advance and when I went to Denver to watch England Vs New Zealand at Mile High stadium, we still didn’t know if the game was going ahead 3 months out! To maximise revenue, sponsorship, attendance etc… the more time you have to plan, the more likely it will be a success.
I would also try and sell International RL rights to networks all around the world to get more eyeballs on the sport and more revenue into the game. On the digital side, an International RL YouTube channel with highlights from all matches would be a good idea so they can be shared far and wide to help promote the sport Internationally.
I’d just like to add that if I were in charge of the NRL, a team in Perth and a team in Wellington would be on the top of my agenda. You’d get two favourable time slots for Australian television which pays the bills. Perth would be able to tap into the state of Western Australia as their junior nursery as well as setup academies in South Africa. Wellington would be able to recruit from their area, the South Island of NZ and be a hub/pathway for our ever growing popularity as a sport in the Pacific Islands (Tonga doing so well has a lot to do with this).