Earlier this year I had lunch with Raelene Castle, CEO of the Bulldogs, and Margie McDonald, the well-respected journalist at The Australian, to discuss what we could do to promote and acknowledge the incredibly important role women play in rugby league.
The Harvey Norman Women in League Round has been held for nine seasons now and, I must admit, initially I was a little skeptical of it. I thought it felt a bit tokenistic, almost offensive to the hundreds of thousands of women whose passion and commitment to rugby league make the game what it is today. The concept was admirable and the intention certainly noble and worthy – but how could wearing pink socks once a year pay adequate tribute to the contribution of women who are, without a doubt, the heart of our game?
Then I began talking to people – not just to my fellow female journalists, or the very smart administrators who work at the highest level to ensure the ongoing longevity of this sport, but to fans. To mums who have kids who play and love rugby league, to the wives and partners of NRL players, to the volunteers who keep bush footy alive so we can continue to enjoy watching the incredible talent it produces and to female players of all ages and standards.
And do you know what?
I encountered universal and overwhelming support for this unique round! They absolutely, unreservedly love it! The women at the grass roots level love feeling that the contributions they make – great and small – are being recognised. It makes them feel special and valuable, and reinforces the idea that they are a very significant and legitimate part of something bigger - our great game of rugby league.
So instantly I became a totally committed Women in League convert, because if it matters to the hundreds of thousands of women who don't have public profiles in this game, then it matters to me.
This week I hosted the launch of Women in League Round at NRL HQ. ARL Commissioner Catherine Harris spoke brilliantly, from the heart, and it was eye opening. This round is a great opportunity for our elite players to thank their mums and the other women in their lives who have helped get them to the highest level of rugby league, Cathy declared.
We hear similar stories from male and female players at all levels of the game – because they're true. Lots of mums drive their kids across the country to train and play football, wash uniforms, and yes, the cutting up oranges for half time is always a fond memory as well (I'm not sure if they still do the oranges thing? I suspect it's probably protein bars and kale at half-time now?).
And while all of these tasks were crucial to their sons' success, Cathy continued, they're nothing compared with what these mothers really gave, and continue to nurture in their sons through rugby league: a sense of resilience. To get back up when you are knocked down. Encouragement to keep going even when you are tired and you want to give up, support to form relationships with team mates who you never want to let down, perseverance to go to training even when it's cold and raining (yes, even my mum made me do that for netball! Evil!)
It's these qualities and values that mums instill in their children that make them who they are today, whether that be through enrolling their child in rugby league – or any sport – and encouraging their child to be the best at whatever they want to do. To give their children a sense of self and the confidence to tackle life head on, and to experience the awesome pleasures and challenges that being a part of a team involves.
This week, as well as all the mums, sisters, grannies, aunts and friends who fulfil these roles, I also want to pay tribute to our Harvey Norman Jillaroos. You go girls! What absolute legends, smashing the Kiwis, and rating really well on free-to-air TV. Cheers girls, you make us all very proud!
Congratulations and thank you to all our rugby league women. Wherever you watch this round's NRL games, and whatever your role - on the field, on the sidelines, in the stands or on the sofa at home, I hope you revel in your glory – and I hope your team puts on a cracker of a match for you!