Rapid rise continues for women's game

Women's rugby league is a sleeping giant, a beast ready to be tapped into and grown to new levels. 

Over the past three years, female participation in rugby league has grown upwards of 20 per cent every year. It is a telling sign which demonstrates, from grass roots to the Jillaroos, that female rugby league is the fastest growing segment in rugby league.

Such growth has led to the creation of the NRL's Female Participation Program Manager position to help aid the rise of rugby league in this space, and the woman who has stepped into this role is Sally McGarn.

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McGarn, who previously worked on the New South Wales Central Coast as a football operations manager, is still only in her first week of the job but is so far amazed with the NRL's commitment to growing the women's game.

"I've been so impressed by the NRL's attitude from the beginning since I applied for the job and... I can see they are really keen for rugby league to develop. So it is a fantastic opportunity for not only me but the game," McGarn said.

"I'm most excited about the complexity of the role in terms of looking after the five-year-olds right up until the Jillaroos. The diversity attracted me to the role and it is a unique opportunity to be able to help grow the game.

"I'm looking at the game plan currently – the NRL strategy for the game – and the target is 700,000 participants overall by 2017 so anything we do in the womens space needs to link into that. 

"I worked in another code which I think is a positive thing for different experiences, but I do have a long history with rugby league with my dad being a South Sydney supporter so it was nice to cross over and make him happy."

While McGarn is still settling in to her new role, the self-confessed Newcastle Knights supporter will walk into her second week of the job fully confident the women's game is on track, with the Jillaroos pencilled in to play New Zealand in the curtain raiser for Sunday's Australia and Samoa Test in Wollongong.

Playing New Zealand for the first time since their victorious World Cup campaign in July 2013, McGarn believes it's a huge opportunity for the Jillaroos to attract greater attention in rugby league circles across the country as they look to build on their World Cup victory.

"This is huge because the world... is looking at this game just as it is for the Four Nations game so to align the men and women's game is a very unique opportunity for the girls," McGarn said.

"This team has developed so much in the past couple of years off the back of their World Cup win and they're really excited to be playing before the Kangaroos.

"[On top of that] in the Jillaroos space we have the Auckland Nines coming up in January and that's just huge for the girls so there are a lot of exciting things happening at the moment."