Helping rugby players a 'dream job'

Maree Bowden fed the shooters for the Flames and Tactix for 14 years. Photo: Martin Hunter
Maree Bowden fed the shooters for the Flames and Tactix for 14 years. Photo: Martin Hunter
Maree Bowden was a mid-court maestro for the Canterbury Flames and Tactix from 1999-2013. And she still plays an instrumental role in sport, except now it’s rugby.

Bowden, 39, is the Canterbury Rugby personal development manager. She helps players in the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup team, Crusaders academy and women’s high-performance programme with their lives off the field to ensure they are prepared for their transition out of rugby.

“This is my dream job. I love it,” she said. “It’s working with athletes and high-performance sport, all those things wrapped up into one. I still feel involved as part of a team and work with people who want to be the best they can be, that’s what I really love about my job,” said Bowden.

Her husband Peter Bowden – a former Highlanders lock – is the Crusaders assistant performance analyst and head analyst for the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup team.

“As you can imagine, Mitre 10 Cup season in our house is pretty hectic. Luckily, we have a four-year-old who loves rugby and thinks he’s one of the boys,” she said.

Bowden grew up in Alexandra and played netball there until becoming a boarder at St Kevin’s College in Oamaru. She played for her school side and North Otago representative teams. While studying at Otago University, she played for the Otago under-21 side before moving to Christchurch in 1999 to attend teachers college.

She became a key part of a successful Flames team, which between 2000 and 2004 made four grand-final appearances, but lost to the Southern Steel on each occasion.

“We had such legends in our team like Julie Seymour, Belinda Colling, Ange Mitchell, Vilimaina Davu, Anna Galvan, Belinda Charteris and Tasha Marshall. In terms of learning for me coming second year out of school, they were the best people to learn from,” said Bowden.

Maree, Parker and Peter Bowden with the Super Rugby trophy. Photo: Supplied
Maree, Parker and Peter Bowden with the Super Rugby trophy. Photo: Supplied
Part of the team’s success could be put down to their no-holds-barred training mentality, which translated right through to their captain’s runs.

“It was meant to be more of a low-key, friendly affair, but it was always full-on defence versus attack. I don’t know how anyone didn’t get injured just before the game because the defence ran hard and the attack wasn’t going to get beaten,” she said.

Unlike the landscape of netball today, the Flames players were semi-professional. While playing for the side, Bowden worked full-time as a teacher at Selwyn House School.

“You had a gym window where you meet and do your gym training Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday and Thursday you would have team training at night and you’d play at the weekend,” she said.

Bowden’s displays for the Flames saw her make her Silver Ferns debut in 2006. She won a silver medal with the side at the 2007 world championships in Auckland and in 2010 captained the team to a Fast 5 Netball World Series title in Liverpool.

In 2008 netball went professional with the implementation of the trans tasman ANZ championship and the Tactix.

“Australia was our toughest foe, so it was exciting because I’d played in the national league for seven years. It was nice to play different players and come up against that tough Australian style. It was an exciting new challenge,” said Bowden.

In 2009 the Tactix recorded their best ever season in the competition, finishing sixth.

However, they would go on to finish the next three seasons in last.

In 2010 Bowden took over the captaincy until her retirement in 2012.

Following netball, she went back to teaching and had her son Parker before taking up her current role with Canterbury Rugby.

Bowden is still a voice for netball as part of the Sky commentary team during the ANZ Premiership.

She is also in business with John Quinn and Gemma McCaw. They run a programme called Performance Wellbeing, which combines the science of well-being with the tools of high-performance sport to enable people to thrive both inside and outside of work.