Dr Pohl sees pathway to home-grown rugby riches

September 6, 2021

By Pat McLeod

Successful investment strategist Dr Manny Pohl AM can see a windfall of rugby riches for Bond University Rugby Club and the code’s Gold Coast grassroots.

“My God!” he says with genuine awe. “You combine what Bond has to offer with a buy-in from the greater Gold Coast clubs and their massive support base … well good luck to Brisbane clubs. You will stand no chance against us.

“But…,” then his voice trails off as he looks across the amazing Gold Coast skyline from his 12th floor Bundall office.

“We are working hard on that pathway and it is better now than it has ever been.”

That unfinished pathway that securely links Gold Coast rugby with Bond and the code’s global opportunities is one of the few areas of frustration left for Dr Pohl after six years as President of the Bond University Rugby Board.

He is justifiably proud of what Bond rugby has achieved during his tenure and especially in season 2021. He would love to see those incredible riches realized during his time as President, but the clock is ticking.

Covid-19 has shackled this globe-trotting businessman to his base on the Gold Coast and has allowed him unprecedented time to devote to his passions outside the boardroom door, including Bond Rugby, but the world is beckoning.

“I have mentioned that I have over-stayed my welcome (as president),” Dr Pohl says. “You can’t stay too long, you get stale. You need new blood.

“Normally I am overseas two-to-three months a year. So next year, if the world opens up, I will not be able to give the time and effort to Bond. Realistically, I can’t see me being in this role for more than another year or so.

“I see my role as helping and facilitating things to happen. (Executive Director of Bond Sport) Garry (Nucifora) and (Bond Director of Rugby) Luca (Liussi) are the engine room. When they need a spanner, I go and find the spanner.”

That ‘spanner’ certainly found a sweet spot this year, with the Bull Sharks recording unprecedented success across the club:

• A record number of players registered for Bond University Rugby Club in 2021;

• Bond won the national Aon Women’s Uni 7s Series for the first time;

• Bond Rugby celebrated a record four of six teams in the finals.

There were numerous other accolades achieved by the club and its individuals, but those three are indicators of just how far the Bond brand has come since first raising its colours in 2014.

Interestingly it is not the numbers, or silverware, that Dr Pohl points to when assessing his Bond KPIs.

“What I really like about Bond Rugby, and in fact the university, is the culture is all about maximizing the student experience and nurturing talent,” he says.

“I am not saying other rugby clubs don’t think that way, but other clubs are more focused on the premier grade premiership and, yes, we would also love to win one.

“The great thing about Bond is it sees itself as a pathway for players and coaches and is truly a club for anyone. It is not male dominated. It has a focus on both genders, together. People compliment us on how our players behave on the sideline. That respect and encouragement of women has been there from Day One.

“It is unique and stems from the University culture and other clubs will be like that soon. But I think it is brilliant that we have a club that anyone who wants to play rugby can come here and feel at home.

“Season 2021 was a fabulous year. The highlight for me was our girls winning the Aon 7s in a competition showcasing the best teams in Australia.  But then so was getting four teams into the finals.

“Having all our six teams highly competitive is a credit to (Head Coach) Grant (Anderson), Luca and Garry and the rest of the coaches as well as the managers and all the medical staff.

“As we move forward, I believe we can do a lot more for the coaches, for their career paths. Not just Bond coaches, but also the community club coaches.”

Dr Pohl reflects on lived experience when gauging what is successful for Bond Rugby now and what else needs to change in the future.

His formula for that success is not complex – good culture and good people.

“What I like about Bond reminds me of some of my most rewarding times playing sport when I was much younger,” says Dr Pohl, who is South African-born and excelled at a variety of sports including rugby, cricket and soccer.

“I was playing soccer with a group of mates and we were all just out of the military – all young and fit. We did very well and got through to the grand final in an all-club knockout competition similar to the FA Cup. Our opposition included 11 Transvaal representative players.

“The score at fulltime was nil-all. We won 4-0 after extra time.

“We won not only because we were very fit, but because we really enjoyed being together as a group. We were a bunch of mates who loved playing together and also enjoyed going down to the clubhouse and having a ball.

“We also had a good coach who understood us and guided us well. Overall, a great culture.

“A few years later a few high-profile players signed to join the now successful club and were more interested in themselves than the team and within a short time the team disintegrated.

“Culture is so important.

“That is why I am so passionate about Bond rugby – sport within the right culture.

“I love sport. I always have. My whole family is sport crazy. My wife (Gail) was a very good tennis player and swimmer. My three sons (Jason, Jared and Hilton) have always played sport – rugby, cricket, golf. Two of them have represented two countries (South Africa and Australia) in karate.

“And university and sport are such a great combination. That is what Tim (Bond University Vice Chancellor Tim Brailsford) recognizes – what sport can do for a university. He has elevated the standard and student participation in sport at the university to an unbelievable level.

“Sport gives a university a heart, an ethos. It heightens the sense of family and belonging.”

And that brings Dr Pohl back to his current conundrum – bringing Bond and its wider Gold Coast rugby family closer together.

Both have plenty to offer. Gold Coast rugby has the masses and from that will come the cream of the crop who will follow the pathway through Bond Rugby to higher representative honours.

Bond offers the gateway to the Reds and Wallabies and also coaching expertise and training infrastructure at its High Performance Centre.

Dr Pohl understands acutely that local clubs want tangible benefits. If their best young players are leaving to play for Bond what benefit do the clubs receive in return?

Since taking over the mantle as the Queensland Premier Grade club on the Gold Coast in 2014, Bond has worked at those benefits.

Through rugby Director Liussi’s tireless efforts, those benefits have become more tangible, including access to elite coaching and a skill-based training program for 15-17-year-olds available to any player on the Gold Coast.

However, possibly, it is the intangibles that Dr Pohl has so carefully nurtured over the past six years at Bond that will give the Gold Coast rugby pathway its greatest attraction.

“When you have ethics and then you add execution, that is what culture is all about,” he said. “With the ethics of this university and then how Garry and Luca and ‘Ando’ (coach Grant Anderson) have executed that, the club is in a great spot.

“The focus is on local. Ando’s heart and soul is Gold Coast. Luca grew up here.

“Yes, I would love First Grade silverware. But I want that to come via home-grown, Gold Coast players. Players who come from local schools, local clubs who come up through our colts, through to premier grade and then, dare I say it, on to the world stage as a Wallaby.

“That will be great, not just for Bond, but for the entire Gold Coast. Maybe that is what is needed for Gold Coast clubs to truly understand what Bond rugby is about and what the real benefits are.

“That’s when the pathway will be clearly defined, when all 13, 14 and 15-year-olds will see what playing rugby on the Gold Coast, with their local club can lead to.

“I thought it (Bond First Grade silverware) could happen this year  … maybe next year.”