ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said there is ambition to make rugby league the number one female sport in Australia and indicated a pay increase was on the horizon for elite players.
V’landys joined a host of distinguished guests at the Sofitel Wentworth on Tuesday morning to celebrate the NRL’s 16th year of Women in League round, where people are encouraged to play their part to changing the story.
The breakfast event, hosted by Fox Sports News’ Sam Squiers, also included a panel discussion with key guests including NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, Commissioner Professor Megan Davis, Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page, Australian Jillaroos coach Brad Donald and former Jillaroo Ruan Sims.
While paying particular tribute to Page, who founded Women in League round in 2007, V’landys said the vision for women playing rugby league was high on his list to get right ahead of the first-ever CBA sign-off later this year.
“Rugby league brings us all together, the ambition for the ARLC is to have rugby league as the number one female sport in Australia,” V’landys said.
“Netball is at the moment and we want to beat them, that’s our aim. We have to start at the bottom and invest.
“We want to grow the game as quickly as possible, and you’re going to have growing pains but if you don’t put your foot in the water and go for it you’ll never get there.
Women in League Breakfast
“Our ambition is to get to the 17 teams in the women’s game. We want to pay for their services and make them professional.
“Next year the women are going to get a 30-40 percent increase in their wages because we’ll introduce a [bigger] salary cap.
“That’s just the beginning, we want to grow the women’s game and make it equal to the men’s game.
“I’d pay any admission price to go and watch Emma Tonegato, if she’s not one of the best fullbacks, male or female, I’ve ever seen … she is the future. She will attract new fans to the game.”
Page, who with Harvey Norman have been major sponsors of the Australian Jillaroos and competitions like the NRLW and women’s State of Origin, said there was always more to do in the female space.
“When you look at what’s happened in the game and how everyone has taken the round on board, we’re the first in sport with so many things,” Page said.
“I’m so proud, obviously, but I’m a small part. There’s always more to do. For me and the board of Harvey Norman we realise that we’re part of the community and we have to continue to do our thing.”
Abdo said the involvement of women at all levels, both on and off the field, was growing through a “why not” attitude and would only continue to push barriers each season.
“Women in league round started by celebrating the role they play in sport,” Abdo said.
“Now it’s about thinking where do we go next and what more we can do to put the spotlight on the challenges we have that lie ahead. There’s a real why not attitude in rugby league.”
'Why not attitude' driving change says Abdo
Sims added the current players in the game had past pioneers like Titans coach Karyn Murphy, Maroons coach Tahnee Norris and Nellie Doherty to look up to and thank for setting a standard.
“If you have people challenging you and challenging norms, that actually drives the game to be fantastic and come up with new opportunities,” Sims said.
“What I’m most proud of is as a game we’ve embraced women as athletes and being part of the fabric of the game. It’s important we continue to celebrate it.”