Raiders a rising force in women's NRL ranks

Raiders a rising force in women's NRL ranks

Even though Canberra do not have a team in the inaugural NRL Holden Women's Premiership, it doesn't mean women's rugby league is not a key focus for the club.

At a junior level locally over the last three years, female participation has been on the increase.

In 2015 there were 177 registered female participants. In 2016 this grew to 207 participants and last year it was up to 369.

This year, the numbers have snowballed to 836 with significant growth in league tag – all this has been due in no small part to the increased visibility for the opportunities women now have to play rugby league at a club, state and international level.

Across the junior and senior competitions for the Canberra region, last year 15.6% of registered participants were women in various formats including tag and tackle - almost 6200 participants.

In 2018 this has risen to 19% to make rugby league the second biggest participating sport in Canberra behind soccer.

The women participating in these competitions play across the region, some with aspirations to play rugby league at a higher level.

Some of these women also represent the Canberra Raiders in the Tarsha Gale Cup under-18 team which was established last year, named after the former Jillaroo and NSW Blues captain.

If you take a closer look next time you see the Raiders' Tarsha Gale team take the field you may notice something different about their jerseys.

While the men's teams that represent the Raiders all feature the "Viking" logo, on the women's jersey there is a female version – it is a "Valkyrie".

Victor the Viking with his new mascot cohort, Venda
Victor the Viking with his new mascot cohort, Venda ©www.raiders.com.au

This logo was developed in response to the question – why can't the women's teams have their own offshoot of the Viking brand?

What this logo does is send a clear message the Raiders support equal opportunity for men and women to play rugby league.

Since discovering the existence of this logo, I've also learnt the development of the "Valkyrie" has been but one part of the work that the club has done throughout 2018 to ensure every woman who is a part of the Raiders family - whether through playing, supporting, administrating or advocating - feels included, respected and engaged by the club.

This is positive for diversity because by growing the number of women involved in the club in a variety of different capacities, this ultimately leads to a bigger and more inclusive Raiders community.

So what else are the Raiders doing in this space?

Take game day. There has been a concerted effort by the club to shifting the focus of fans from just the result, to their experience at the game. There has been an increase in the number of women involved at game day, particularly in regards to ground announcing.

Then there is the Viking Clap.

Plenty of you might thing this was a direct carbon copy from the Icelandic soccer team. However, the "Raiders Viking Ceremony", which includes members blowing the horn when a try is scored and that famous clap is actually a combination of ceremonies performed by the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and the Icelandic side.

These things might seem simple, but it has helped contribute to a 13% increase in the number of women and children that go to game day, because it is all part of making the footy fun.

Also new to game day has been the introduction of a new female mascot, Velda the Viking who is Victor's sister. Velda first appeared in their round-three game against the Warriors.

Parramatta have "Sparkle the Eel", the Penrith have "Penny Panther" and Canterbury have "Bella the Bulldog" - hopefully it won't be too long before each of these clubs have women's teams of their own and the female mascots can accompany the players as they take the field.

The Raiders also have two female board members, Yvonne Gillett and Bronwyn Fagan.

This is right at the front of the pack when it comes to clubs with female board members and is an example to some of the other teams who still don't have any female representation at that level of governance.

But back to women's footy.

A key driver for the Raiders when it comes to women's rugby league is building from the bottom up and ensuring that when the club is ready to put in a bid for a women's team (hopefully in the not too distant future), that the Green Machine have an existing talent pool ready to call upon.

Part of that strategy is ensuring there is an established pathway all under the Canberra Raiders banner from the grassroots to the elite level.

The Raiders already have a female development squad.

They are also developing a new Centre of Excellence which they hope to open next year.

By this stage the hope is the Raiders will have another under-16 representative team.

This will complement the female competitions administered by Canberra Region Rugby League including the Katrina Fanning Shield which is a first-grade open women's tackle division and the equivalent of the Canberra Raiders Cup but for females, an under-17 girls' tackle competition and George Tooke Shield league tag competition.

With this level of commitment, hopefully it won't be too long before we see the "Valkyrie" feature on the jerseys of Canberra's women's team as they take the field with Velda to the thunderous sound of the Viking Clap.