Officials are working to further increase participation figures across the game after NSW exceeded 100,000 players for the first time this season to lead a 3.5 per cent nation-wide rise.
After five years of declining participation, NSW has achieved a growth of 5.5 per cent through increased numbers of men, women, boys and girls playing the game in city and country areas.
In total, there were 101,158 participants in NSW, comprising of 41,753 NSWRL registered players – an increase of 5.54 per cent – and 59,405 players in Country Rugby League areas.
The game has also recorded increased playing numbers around the country, including:
- 1.82 per cent growth in Queensland;
- 16.7 per cent growth in Western Australia, and;
- Record participation levels in Victoria.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg told a meeting of the ARL Commission on Thursday that there were 36,900 players across Australia playing rugby league for the first time in 2018.
"Rugby league participation numbers have grown by 3.5 per cent and not many games these days can brag about that," ARLC chairman Peter Beattie said.
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"We are quite excited about that. Todd reported that to our ARLC meeting this morning and there is quite a level of enthusiasm that our game is growing."
Registered female participation remained the strongest growth area for the game with a 29 per cent increase on 2017 figures to 16,337 women and girls in NSW – more than double the numbers playing just three years ago.
Significantly, there was also an 8.09 per cent increase in the number of total participants aged seven and under, while overall playing numbers increased in Sydney's Western Suburbs District (13 per cent), Cronulla (12.75 per cent), Penrith (4.5 per cent) and Parramatta (3.25 per cent).
Overall male participation increased by two per cent but the one area of the game which did not experience growth was among 13-18-year-old boys.
Beattie said the issue had been discussed at an ARLC meeting on Tuesday at St Marys to coincide with the NSW Female Finals Day, which featured teams from more than 500 schools.
"We still have a challenge in terms of growing the game for young men between 13 and 18 years old and we are working on that," Beattie said. "We are losing people in that age group, we need to continue to get them."
Among the options likely to be trialled are the introduction of weighted competitions and expanding age-groups from 12 months to 18 months.
"To address the decline we will be introducing alternate formats of the game as part of in-season offerings in 2019," NSWRL head of football Barrie-Jon Mather said.
Mather said the retention rate of players across NSWRL competitions was 70.6 per cent, which is above the national average of 68.3 per cent.
Importantly, he said there had also been a 13.5 per cent increase in registered volunteers from 8,091 to 9,187, and an 18 per cent rise in the number of registered coaches from 3,103 to 3,581.
"Without them and their efforts on a weekly basis throughout the year none of this growth would be possible so a lot of the success we have achieved over the past 12 months has to go down to those volunteers," Mather said.