Regular columnist Leila McKinnon is away. This column was written by NRL Digital and One Community Editor Tracie Edmondson.
You don't have to play rugby league to love it. Just ask the 50,000 female volunteers, administrators, officials, participants and employees at the heart of the game.
45,000 women perform volunteer roles for rugby league clubs in Australia, 1300 are coaches, almost 900 are referees and over 3000 are first aid officers. There are also 18 female club presidents, and 65 women in senior management positions in NRL clubs and 10 on club boards.
That's not to mention the tens of thousands of female fans who attend the games each week as well, with over 40 per cent of the NRL's supporters being females.
The founding fathers of rugby league 103 years ago could never have imagined women being so involved in their game.
But their ever-evolving role is well received, and the involvement of women in rugby league is being celebrated by the NRL this week through the fith annual Harvey Norman Women In League Round (June 24-27).
A wide range of pink-themed activities and functions are being held throughout the country, as well as players wearing pink boots, socks and jerseys to mark the occasion and to help raise funds for the round's One Community charity partner, the McGrath Foundation.
On Tuesday in Sydney, the women of league will announce their ‘Favourite Son’ at the third of four 2011 Harvey Norman WIL functions – a player whose off-field characteristics embody the true values of the rugby league community; a player who acts as a true role model to younger players.
Won in 2010 by Nathan Hindmarsh, this year’s nominees include Preston Campbell (Gold Coast Titans), Nathan Merritt (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Andrew Ryan (Canterbury Bulldogs), Darren Lockyer (Brisbane Broncos), Alan Tongue (Canberra Raiders), Kurt Gidley (Newcastle Knights), Petero Civoniceva (Penrith Panthers) and Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm).
Voted for by the women who love the game, rugby league's 'Favourite Sons' are just one of the factors behind their passion for league. These are the sort of players who are true role models to younger players and children in general - strong, courageous and inspiring leaders.
Players like Preston Campbell, who has played over 250 NRL games despite being told he was too small to play. Darren Lockyer, at 34 and in his 17th season, who continues to play brilliant football and break records to the end of his career.
And Petero Civoniceva, who is not only a workhorse on the field, but was pictured hauling wheelbarrows full of debris as his Panthers team helped out in Queensland after the floods in January.
Apart from their favourite sons, what else drives females to be involved in rugby league at all levels? The reasons are many and varied, but are closely aligned to what Origin football is all about - the inspiring leaders and players as mentioned; the entertainment value and brilliance of players such as Billy Slater, Jarryd Hayne and Greg Inglis; the camaraderie and mateship/friendship; and the passion of the Queenslanders, now being matched by the Blues.
NRL Director of Community, Culture and Diversity Trish Crews added that women also love what the game means to the community.
"No matter what club you support and where, you can get a real sense of belonging," she said.
"If your child is playing, you meet friends and are a part of the team, club and community. If you support an NRL team you get the same sense of belonging. People are so passionate about what the game means to them. It is their life!"
It's that sort of passion that saved the career of last year's Favourite Son winner Nathan Hindmarsh. He revealed to 200 guests at the second Harvey Norman dinner at Bowral on the NSW South Coast last week, that without the support of his wife Bonnie and mother Fiona, he may not have made it through his playing career.
Hindmarsh told the audience of the phone call that saved his career, when his mum ordered a homesick teenager back onto the training paddock.
"She basically said in that tone only mums seem to use: 'Nathan, if you don’t get back in that car …'" Hindmarsh said.
"The rest is history but if she hadn’t been both supportive and firm that day, things might have turned out very differently."
Legendary Queenslander Billy Moore also acknowledged the valuable role that women played after being a special guest at the first 2011 Harvey Norman WIL function at Noosa on Queensland's Sunshine Coast two weeks ago.
“That night, for me, has crystallised the important role of women in rugby league,” he said.
"Without women in the game, rugby league would never be quite right."