You’ve got to be dedicated or completely mad to drive 400 kilometres, and travel another 170 by train to support the struggling Roosters in an ordinary home game, and since Donna of Baradine in NSW doesn’t appear to be loopy in any way, let’s conclude that she’s just as dedicated as they come.
Donna is a member of the Roosters all-female fan club, Chic, which has seen its membership numbers quadruple in just two years. We’re supporting rugby league in our own way, with an intoxicating mix of champagne, meat pies, footy talk and manicures.
Whether it’s in the stands or in boardrooms, women are becoming increasingly involved in rugby league at all levels. There are now 65 women in senior management positions, 10 on club boards, and 50,000 who contribute every week in all sorts of ways.
There’s also been a massive surge in the number of schoolgirls playing the game, up 52% to 750 000 this year. Personally I found netball violent enough (there’s a reason they check fingernails for concealed weapons before the game) but I support the right of anyone to take part in the sport they love.
I watched game one of the 2011 women’s rugby league State of Origin with awe. They ran hard and they tackled even harder, taking massive hits as casually as any male player. But each tackle had all the blokes that were watching squirming. Without exception, the men said they didn’t like to see women getting hit.
While it’s sweet of the guys to worry about the girls, I don’t see the problem. The men get pole-axed by men, the women smash the women, and they love it. Blues player Jess Palmer has described her teammates and competitors as, “athletes who live and breathe footy, love training, playing, and are very talented and skilful”.
Whether you play the game, are a fan, a rugby league mum or girlfriend, a volunteer or employee … if you hang up wet towels and ask for directions when driving, the Harvey Norman Women in League Round, from June 24-27, is there to celebrate your contribution.
Wests Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri has taken the opportunity to acknowledge his wife Rebekka, saying: “Not only does she support me on and off the field, she’s also very involved in rugby league’s women’s programs and the game’s grassroots.”
It’s heart-warming to hear the guys thank their mums and partners, and the women of their clubs. It’s also been funny to see some of our favourite men in league tremble as they face a room full of women.
He commentates games for millions of viewers for Channel Nine, but at last year’s Sydney Women in League lunch, poor old Ray “Rabs” Warren confessed he’d never been as nervous in his life as he was at speaking to the overwhelmingly female crowd.
He’s not alone. Our last Chic event was in full stride when injured players Mitch Aubusson and Anthony Cherrington tiptoed into the room, saying they’d never heard anything as loud as 150 women sipping bubbly and talking league. When it came time for them to face questions from the fans they looked terrified. I’ve seen those two square-up to the biggest, toughest blokes in the game with much less trepidation.
Apart from those few frightening moments, the Women in League round is an absolute joy. Footy fans, put on your pink and celebrate league and the women who love it, the wives and girlfriends who live it, and the women behind the scenes who help make it happen.