Nathan Hindmarsh and Hazem El Masri at the Women in League lunch in Sydney.
It is the seventh annual Women in League Round, time for the NRL to celebrate the sisterhood that is involved across all levels of the game, community, social and development aspects of league. It is one of the most successful promotional rounds of the season, so let’s make a fuss over the fairer sex this weekend!
We already know the referees love pulling on the pink, but they’ll be joined by a fashion-forward Cowboys, Dragons, Panthers, Sharks, Warriors and Bulldogs who will also be wearing pink jerseys. Even some of our toughest, gruffest, most masculine men of league – i.e., Greg Inglis, James Tamou and Fuifui Moimoi – will be lacing up pink boots. Why? Because without their mothers, sisters, aunties, wives or girlfriends, none of those players would be the men they are today.
So there are a few ladies I’d like you to meet, starting with Jackie Sims: mother, former player and household referee.
Jackie’s children Ashton, Tariq, Korbin and Ruan are creating a rugby league dynasty. Ashton and Tariq play for the Cowboys; Korbin is based at the Knights; while their sister Ruan is a Women’s Blues bolter and preparing for the Australian Jillaroos bid at the upcoming World Cup. Imagine growing up in the Sims’ Gerringong home? The family would stage a Friday night mini-‘Fight Night’, complete with mouthguards and headgear. The Sims children pushed the lounge room furniture aside to make an arena. Jackie tells me the rules were simple – Ashton (who is a Fiji international) was only allowed to ‘fight’ on his knees. It was a rowdy, rambunctious rumble that was the perfect breeding ground for one of the country’s most successful rugby league families.
Nest, Charlotte Dawson: Anti-Bullying Ambassador and perfectly groomed NRL fan.
When Charlotte is not judging Australia’s Next Top Model, the gorgeous media personality is delivering a powerful anti-bullying message to more than 120,000 young fans from Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa. It’s an issue painfully close to her heart after a very public battle with cyber-bullies last year. The NRL says a recent Australian Government study revealed one in four school-aged students suffer from regularly bulling. Charlotte believes there is no place for bullies, either on the field or in the classroom.
Then there’s Lyn Martin: leader of the Broncos Supporter Group and a faithful Brisbane member since 1995.
Lyn has watched every single game of her beloved Broncos over the past 18 years, even travelling to England to watch her favourite player Darren Lockyer lace up for the Kangaroos. The adorable fanatic was there for Locky’s international swansong against the Kiwis, and was the first to sign the petition to have the former captain immortalised in bronze beside his boyhood hero Wally Lewis at Suncorp Stadium.
Which brings me to Yolande Morris: a Life Member of South Darwin Rabbitohs who has devoted years to working on both Junior and Senior Committees. Yolande is one of 263 nationally accredited female coaches, one of more than 6000 registered players and one of 2,500 volunteer administrators.
These are just a tiny cross-sample of the role women have in our game. There are now six females holding down board positions in NRL clubs, and that continues to grow annually. Women have a voice from the local league to the Commission. We are heard in the grandstands – 45 per cent of fans are women. Some 90,000 young girls will participate in NRL development this year, as our Jillaroos head to their fourth World Cup appearance in July. NRL CEO Dave Smith told me this week that women are the backbone of rugby league. Looking at the remarkable ladies I’ve met and worked with over the years, I’d have to agree.