There's something special about this week... yet another thing I believe rugby league does better than any other code. Women in League Round is my favourite – and not because I am a woman involved in rugby league, although I am very proud to be – but because it is an opportunity to acknowledge the truly worthy women in our magnificent league community.
While it's satisfying to recognise how far our game has come, and to see female journalists covering NRL – great examples are my colleague Yvonne Sampson hosting Friday night games, Lara Pitt doing a fantastic job on Fox (as is Jen Browning on the ABC) and so many more across all genres of media covering rugby league) – the public role of female journalists is not what this round is about. We may be some of the most visible women in league, but when it comes to the real purpose of this week of celebration and recognition, we are way down the pecking order of a very long line of sisters.
Mums – you are the lifeblood of our game, and where it all starts. The only reason it exists, flourishes and is played all over this country is because of the commitment you have honoured from the first registration day of your (in most cases very young) sons and daughters. Over decades you accommodate and prioritise into a hectic household routine countless trips to training, assistance in the canteen, washing uniforms, organising match days and a hundred and one other tasks that it takes to field a junior team. And then there’s the hardest part – empathising, caring and supporting during the occasional lows of sport, and celebrating the many highs – you indeed are the true heroes.
Wives, girlfriends and partners: I think you are amazing. You readily sacrifice precious weekends for a significant slice of the year – and let's be honest here, in many cases a Bridget Jones-style 'mini break' with your significant other may at times have slightly more appeal than sitting in cold and wet grandstands watching games. And of course the weekend is only one part of it – the NRL readily acknowledges in this round that the support of women in league extends far beyond weekend fixtures.
At all levels – from country rugby league to the NRL – we salute you. Daughters, sisters, cousins, friends, neighbours – all the women who support in any way the men who play rugby league – and the women who play, too. Our glorious players – the fearless warriors who run out and break the mould, who have changed the landscape of the NRL and proved that girls can do it just as well, and in many cases much better. Like Sam Hammond who plays for Australia. They call Sam the female Billy Slater, and I reckon on a good day she might even be able to take him on!
Then there are the referees like Kasey Badger, the administrators like Tracie Edmondson and finally – and maybe most importantly – the women who aren't immediately related to anyone playing rugby league, but front up every weekend, cheer on and volunteer. The mums whose sons have long since hung up the boots, but grew to love the game, and all that comes with the game: the atmosphere, the sense of community, that special bond and spirit that exists between the posts, and on the sideline, of every local rugby league fixture around this great country...
Congratulations and a sincere thank you to all Women in League. You not only have made rugby league great – without you our great game would simply not exist.