I had a conversation recently with one of the coaches who conducted a camp on the Gold Coast for under-16 women.
The question was asked 'Who has been playing rugby league since Under 6s'?
For the first time ever, 15 of the girls in a squad put their hands up! There’s no better example of the growing force of girls and women playing our great game.
This generational swing has well and truly arrived. The introduction of the NRLW competition and the inaugural Holden State of Origin game at North Sydney alongside the Jillaroos success, has meant more young girls want to play our game.
One of the great memories for me from last June’s Origin game was the number of young girls in the crowd, there with their mothers and fathers and yelling for their heroes.
It shows rugby league is part of this revolution in women’s sport globally, that we already see in Australia sport like cricket with the Southern Stars and the Matildas in soccer.
It was a highly entertaining game last year and a credit not only to the players but to the Queensland and NSW coaching staff led by Jason Hetherington and Ben Cross.
Jason is part of the Queensland men’s set-up and now Ben is the current assistant coach at the Broncos with Anthony Seibold, which demonstrates the women’s game is a genuine alternative in creating pathways into our elite areas.
Obviously among all this excitement and enthusiasm, the game has also had to demonstrate a lot of patience.
The quality and depth of players is an area that needs considered and intelligent planning. That’s why the NRL made a decision to have just four teams, when there were other clubs putting up their hands for NRLW.
The four clubs entering the women’s competition knew the level of commitment required to meet the criteria both financially and structurally.
With the growing space of women’s sport around the world, and certainly in Australia, I see that as an astute investment by those four clubs: Dragons, Broncos, Roosters and Warriors.
At the international level we’ve been playing Jillaroos and Kangaroos matches together at the same venues.
We’ve been doing double-headers for a couple of years now – it happened at the last Anzac Test in May 2017, then again at the World Cup, and we’re booked in again at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on October 25 this year.
There was the Indigenous and Maori All Stars in Melbourne, both men and women, in February and the inaugural World Nines at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium in mid-October will have men’s and women’s team intermingled.
So women’s games are no longer considered trial matches, or preliminaries to a men’s game. They are now double-headers of equal standing – on the same pedestal together.
We play representative matches like U18s and U20s on the same night as State of Origin, so I can see it a real possibility that the women’s Origin could be part of that night on the big stage in front of a huge viewing audience.
The reason why it hasn’t been placed there yet I’m sure is because it’s a stand-alone game that is commercially viable on its own. It doesn’t need to be attached to any other event – the women’s Origin is its own drawcard.
But we still need patience with all this. The women’s game is growing organically, however we need more players to broaden the base. We need all the education and coaching pillars in place so that we develop women and girls getting to coach and play at the top level.
At the moment there isn’t the numbers, so the smart thing was to hold the NRLW at four again this year. The planning now is to increase that number but the commercial investment needs to go hand-in-hand with that.