GROUP Seven Rugby League is on the lookout for a new operations manager after Debbie Rowley stepped down from the role this week.
Rowley took over the position at the start of 2020 and helped negotiate the South Coast competition through the COVID-19 pandemic - seeing it become the only NSWRL-based competition to field a full complement of first grade sides in 2020.
But after 18 months in the chair, Rowley thought it was time to move on.
"Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and I leave on extremely good terms with Group Seven, I just feel the time is right for me to move on," Rowley, who commutes from Sydney to Kiama every day for work, said
"Group Seven is in a strong position and moving in the right direction and I am very proud of the work I put in last season and have continued with this season.
"The passion and resilience of the people within the region is amazing, which played a massive part in ensuring our competition went ahead last season in the middle of the pandemic - as I always love a challenge.
"Stepping into a huge, new role and within two months you are hit with an unprecedented pandemic, made it all the more rewarding to steer the group to such success through those historic times - it's something I'll always be proud of."
While her stint was shorter than her predecessors, Rowley believes she's made an ever-lasting impact on the South Coast competition.
"I came into this role with a completely different set of skills to the traditional rugby league administrator and believe utilising those skills throughout the pandemic was paramount in our success last season," she said.
"We were the only competition to have all our first grade teams play a near full season and our grand final was the largest event held in the Illawarra/South Coast region in 2020.
"When people said they wanted the Group Seven grand final back in the heartland, I listened and made it happen - it was important to the future of the competition to listen to those fans.
"It is cemented back in the region now and there is no reason it cannot be as successful as last year and grow every year to be the best grand final at a grassroots level."
As such, Rowley believes the competition is in a stronger position now than when he first took over.
"We had an unbelievably successful season in 2020, one of the best-ever financially," she said.
"We have locked down a number of great financial partnerships including First National Real Estate and Bluescope Steel.
"We have implemented a mental health program and are investing more in education for health and wellbeing to the Group Seven clubs.
"I also believe relationships with internal and external stakeholders have been strengthened and engagement with Group Seven supporters has increased."
Rowley, who admits the competition has made an ever-lasting impact in her life, will continue her role until July 7 before transitioning into some contract work.
"I now have a complete understanding of how important grassroots sports is to the local community," said Rowley, who thanked the junior and senior Group Seven boards, clubs, fans, volunteers and media agencies for their help during her tenure.
"Group Seven supporters are as passionate, if not more passionate, than NRL team supporters.
"It has been great for my career, it goes down in history that we succeeded as a competition in a pandemic.
"As for what's next, I love rugby League and would absolutely love to end up back in the game.
"But I don't know what that looks like right now and that's what makes life exciting - we don't know what's around the corner."
Group Seven president Scott McLaurin, who admits it will be disappointing to see Rowley leave, thanked her for all her work over the past 18 months.
"We thank Debbie for the huge amount of work she has done during her time in the role," McLaurin said.
"Her efforts have been both amazing and very much appreciated.
"Debbie's determination and positiveness during an unprecedented COVID time in rugby league and Group Seven's history were paramount to the success of our competitions in 2020.
"Debbie has implemented some real positives for our competitions over the last 18 months including taking our social media exposure to a new level.
"She was absolutely outstanding in what she achieved in the seniors final series last year - organising the grand final back in Group Seven with record profits being the obvious highlight.
"Debbie has been a pleasure to work with and I wish her all the best in her future employment."