The launch of the National Rugby League’s Harvey Norman Women in League Round has revealed a 10,000-strong increase in the number of female volunteers, referees and administrators involved in the game over the past two years, with a marked rise also in the number of women occupying NRL Club management and board positions.

The number of women in senior management positions across the 16 NRL Clubs has grown to more than 65 with the number of women on Club boards growing to 10, while on the field women and girls represent the largest single area of growth in national participation rates.

Paying tribute today to the 50,000 women at the heart of the game was an unabashed group of Wests Tigers stars including Robbie Farah, Lote Tuqiri and Todd Payten who, proudly clad in pink, hosted a morning tea at Leichhardt Oval to launch a month of activities and events that will culminate in the fifth annual Harvey Norman Women in League Round (Round 16).

Also present at today’s launch were Wests Tigers Blake Ayshford, Mitch Brown and Liam Fulton, who joined their club’s Women in League ambassador, Belinda O’Neill, as well as Manly gear steward Sue Adler, Fox Sports reporter Melinda Farrell and NRL Director of Community, Culture and Diversity, Trish Crews – Women in League ambassadors for the Sea Eagles, Sharks and NRL respectively – along with Sharks Board members Denise Aldous and Jenny Reynolds.

From television presenter Leila McKinnon (Sydney Roosters) to house mum Millie Horo (Parramatta Eels) and young business women Anna Cesarano (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), the Women in League ambassadors will support a range of NRL and NRL Club activities in the lead up to the Harvey Norman Women in League Round, from June 24-27.

Each year the Round recognises the role women play at all levels of Rugby League, with this year’s initiative boosted by a surge in female playing numbers, which at the end of 2010 were up 12% to 5,490 for women and girls playing in regular competitions and a staggering 52% to 750,000 for girls taking part in school programs.

"These increases in volunteer, participation and administration numbers show the importance of the Harvey Norman Women in League Round,” NRL Director of Community, Culture and Diversity, Trish Crews said.

“The more we have focused on women involved in Rugby League at all levels, the more growth we have seen in this area.

“It still surprises me how amazed people are at the number of women in the game and the range of roles they play.

"In the past six months alone, we have seen female Board members appointed to a further two NRL Clubs – Professor Sandra Harding at the North Queensland Cowboys and businesswoman Katie Bickford at the Brisbane Broncos – which brings the number to 10, up from two in 2009.

"There are now also more than 65 women in executive and senior management positions across the NRL Clubs, as well as development officers dedicated to increasing participation among women and girls and tens of thousands of women volunteering their skills and time across the country each week.

“Harvey Norman Women in League is a practical way to encourage these and all women to be involved in Rugby League through leadership and mentoring programs offered as part of the events, as well as a chance for our players to show their support for the women and girls in the game.

Acknowledging the 50,000 women recognised through the Harvey Norman Women in League Round, Wests Tigers wing Lote Tuqiri today hosted his wife Rebekka as his special guest at the breakfast.

“This is a great way to recognise and thank all the women and girls in our game,” Tuqiri said.

“To say that Bek helps me through the season is an understatement.

“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

“There are so many women and girls in Rugby League, from players to fans, officials, mums and club staff and they all deserve a huge thanks for everything they do.”

Women in League, which is the brain child of Harvey Norman Managing Director, Katie Page, has evolved over the past five years to recognise all those women who are not only fans of Rugby League but who tirelessly give their time in support of the game.

“Over the past five years, the NRL has achieved great success ensuring the women who offer their valuable skills and time are given due recognition and support,” Ms Page said.

“In the two years since 2009, we’ve seen a jump of female involvement from 40,000 to 50,000; that’s 10,000 more volunteers, officials, referees and administrators offering their time every week.

“All are from diverse backgrounds and all are crucial to shaping the state of Rugby League.”

In the lead up to the Harvey Norman Women in League Round, the month of June will see more than 600 women from across the game and the nation attend a series of events to celebrate the role of women in Rugby League, from Noosa (June 8) and Bowral (June 14) to Sydney (June 21) and, for the first time, Perth (June 23).

The Round itself, from June 24-27, will once again be a festival of pink with Wests Tigers, the Parramatta Eels, Manly Sea Eagles, Penrith Panthers, Canberra Raiders, Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra Dragons set to wear specially designed pink playing kits for their Round 16 games.

For a second year, Harvey Norman Women in League will partner with the McGrath Foundation by selling pink scarves at selected Round 16 games and supporting NRL Club activities that will fundraise for the cause.

Rugby League fans who donate via the McGrath website (www.mcgrathfoundation.com.au) between Monday 20 June and midnight on Monday 27 June will go into the draw to win a one-of-a-kind Steeden match ball signed by their favourite team.

The McGrath Foundation’s Tracy Bevan today said she was thrilled to once again see the Foundation partner with the Harvey Norman Women in League Round and believes this year’s event will be pinker than ever.

“The support we saw from players and fans in 2010 was just incredible and raised more than $120,000 for the Foundation, which equates to the funding of one McGrath Breast Care Nurse for a full year,” Ms Bevan said.

“We already know this year will be the pinkest yet as with a number of NRL Clubs pinking their playing kits, as well as local Rugby League clubs across the country buying pink socks to wear in celebration of the Round.

“At the McGrath Foundation, it’s also really important for us to say thank you and to give back to the community who have supported us, as we couldn't achieve all we have without their support.

This year’s Harvey Norman Women in League Ambassadors are:

- Sydney Roosters: Leila McKinnon (Media Personality and overarching 2011 Women in League Ambassador)
- Brisbane Broncos: Vicki Ciocca (Broncos Brand Manager)
- Parramatta Eels: Millie Horo (House mum at the Eels for 8 years)
- Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: Anna Cesarano (Young businesswoman)
- South Sydney Rabbitohs: Chris Keeble (Game day manager)
- Newcastle Knights: Catherine Britt (Country music singer)
- Melbourne Storm: Nicole Livingstone (former swimmer)
- Penrith Panthers: Venetia Lovett (Panthers on the Prowl teachers aid)
- Manly Sea Eagles: Sue Alder (Manly gear steward)
- Cronulla Sharks: Melinda Farrell (FOX Sports journalist)
- St George Illawarra Dragons: Elizabeth Kingston (runs Crystal Bears)
- North Queensland Cowboys: Fiona Pelling (Community manager)
- New Zealand Warriors: Petrece Kesha (Community manager)
- Wests Tigers: Belinda O’Neill (Wife of former player Mark O’Neill)
- Canberra Raiders: Margaret Lenihan (Volunteer with local Canberra Club)
- NRL: Trish Crews (Director of Community, Culture & Diversity)