Jillaroos enjoying their new profile
They all have day jobs and play for the love of the game but members of the Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos team say they are starting 2016 in an unfamiliar position: on equal footing with their male counterparts.
The high standard of women's rugby league was on show to many for the first time during the three-match series between the Jillaroos and New Zealand's Kiwi Ferns at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines last year and the clashes from February 6 at Eden Park will again be a highlight.
Many experts stated that the intensity of the women's matches breathed life into the atmosphere of a packed Eden Park 12 months ago and the exposure to many thousands of people watching on TV put the women's game into the spotlight like never before.
As it does this year the Indigenous Women's All Star game followed a week later before the Anzac Test in May that was played as the curtain-raiser to the Test between the Kangaroos and Kiwis and was shown on free-to-air television, further boosting their exposure.
By the end of the season the ladies had an award of their own at rugby league's night of nights – Dally M Female Player of the Year – and the winner of the inaugural award, Jenni-Sue Hoepper, said the reaction from others in the game showed just how far they have come in a relatively short space of time.
"Actually walking on the red carpet was a big one," Hoepper said of her memories of the night.
"Walking next to the superstar NRL players and being on the same level as them walking on the red carpet; walking alongside them was a big thing.
"The biggest thing is the coaches and the NRL players actually acknowledging and showing their recognition to the girls and the games.
"All the players and coaches went out of their way to congratulate me and have a chat. The biggest one I remember out of that night was one of the Morris boys came up and he mentioned that he watched our games and that he'd seen me play.
"For him to say that he'd actually watched us and that he recognised me in that game, that's a big thing."
Hoepper has been forced to withdraw from the Jillaroos team to contest the Auckland Nines and also the All Stars game due to a back injury but is hopeful of being fit to play in the mid-year Test.
Althoughy sidelined from playing it will still be a busy start to 2016 for Hoepper who when not representing the Jillaroos as a skilful five-eighth works as a rugby league development officer in Townsville which is still abuzz following the Cowboys' premiership triumph last season.
Less than 48 hours after her Dally M win Hoepper was back at work in Townsville as grand final fever swept through North Queensland and said her new-found fame is also transferring through to young rugby league fans with big dreams.
"I love what I do and it refreshes me every time when you get kids coming up to you and they're eager to give rugby league a go," she said.
"They come up to me and say they saw me on TV and that sort of stuff and just listening to how much passion and pride they have for the game is a big thing.
"I know when the Cowboys made the grand final against the Wests Tigers [in 2005] there was a big boost in numbers the following year so definitely looking forward to 2016 and giving all the kids an opportunity to play rugby league.
"I've always loved and had a passion for the game and to be able to see it grow and how fast it has grown in the last two or three years, it's just getting bigger and better.
"I'm happy for the young girls who are now looking at it and their goal is to now make the Jillaroos and they can see that pathway.
"They could watch the games, they could see what they have to do in order to get there, having the opportunity to trial for the squad and we're doing our best to provide every girl with the same opportunities."