When the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys-based NRL Development team first suggested a schoolgirl challenge as a way of increasing girls' participation in rugby league, they weren't sure of the response they would get – but they shouldn't have worried.
The Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge has proven to be a great success over several years of competition and continues to grow, with around 300 players in 25 teams, representing over 20 secondary schools from across North Queensland, involved in this year's challenge at the Townsville District Junior Rugby League grounds on Friday.
Four age groups were covered in 2016 – 12, 14, 16 years and an open age group, with teams travelling to Townsville from as far afield as Mackay, Mt Isa and Cape York.
"The response to this year's Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge demonstrates the real interest amongst girls in playing rugby league," NRL development officer Ben Jeffries said.
"We structure the event so that we cater for girls who are new to playing rugby league as well as those who are experienced in playing the game.
"It's a fun day of rugby league that sends a genuine message that girls can play any sport."
The 2016 Challenge welcomed Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) as a supporter of the event, using the opportunity to build awareness of breast cancer in the region with information on the disease and services available to sufferers.
BCNA is the peak national organisation for Australians affected by breast cancer, and consists of a network of more than 110,000 members and 300 member groups.
"BCNA is very excited about supporting the Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge and increasing awareness of breast cancer in the North Queensland community," BCNA state development manager Margaret Jolly said.
"This year nearly 16,000 women and 150 men will hear the words 'you have breast cancer'.
"This partnership will not only increase awareness of breast cancer in the community but raise vital funds so that BCNA can continue to support Australians affected by breast cancer.
"I'd also like to encourage all Queensland sporting clubs to turn their club pink for a day by holding a Pink Sports Day in support of Australians affected by breast cancer.
"A Pink Sports Day is a great way to show your support to women and men in your local community who have been affected by breast cancer."
For more information, visit bcna.org.au
2016 COWBOYS SCHOOLGIRL CHALLENGE RESULTS
12 years: Rasmussen def Kelso
14 years: Tully SHS def Mirani SHS
16 years: Good Counsel/Innisfail def Mareeba
Opens: Kirwan SHS def Mareeba SHS
Images from the 2016 Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge
This article first appeared on cowboys.com.au