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RLPA chair Deidre Anderson

"Mum used to say to me all time 'Look you've got to let the boys win every now and again'."

That's the early rugby league memory of the new chair of the RLPA Dr Deidre Anderson, who was elected earlier this week at the annual general meeting.

At the back of her family home in Parramatta in the 1960s, an old chicken factory was closed down leaving vacant land.

The parents got together and decided to make use of the space by mowing the grass, putting up two sets of goal posts and presto! A community rugby league field was in place.

"Boys and girls played together and we had fun," Anderson said. "And the girls used to win a bit because when you're seven and eight, girls are usually bigger."

No guesses that the Eels became Anderson's team – still are.

"I came from the era where you don't swap [teams]. You take the good with the bad.

"I can vividly remember going to watch Parramatta and I'd be standing on all the old steel soft drink and beer cans. That was the only way I could see the game."

And what she did see was the beauty of various Parramatta backlines in the 1970s.

"I loved seeing the centres come out and make a break, before a really good pass to the winger – all done at speed."

RLPA chair Deidre Anderson and CEO Ian Prendergast
RLPA chair Deidre Anderson and CEO Ian Prendergast ©Courtesy RLPA

Yelling from the rugby league sidelines was just the start of a life-long love affair with sport. It also has been her living for 30 years.

Anderson has been involved with the Victorian Institute of Sport, set up the UK's national sports institute in London, and was a Sergeant in the Air Force.

In fact alongside being the RLPA's first female chair, she was the first female physical education officer for any of the three Australian defence forces, and the first woman to complete a survival course.

"My job was to train Air Force pilots – keep them up in the air and keep them fit."

She spent two weeks in tropical forest and wilderness in far north Queensland's Atherton Tableland, as a prerequisite for completing her physical education degree.

"I never thought of myself being the first female doing it. I just thought it was going to be bloody hard."

And it was. The scenario is that you are shot down behind enemy lines and the bad guys are after you.

"It's a very inhospitable place. Everything was going to either bite you or eat you. You have no food and you're being chased by people.

"So you have to survive. I stayed high on the ridges and came down late at night to get water. Basically you just have to be very quiet.

"Your mind starts to play tricks on you. And I lost about nine kilograms."

That would seem to eminently qualify Anderson for wrangling with the NRL over players' rights. She also has a PhD in social sciences, where she worked with a lot of elite athletes and their transition from sport into retirement.

RLPA chair Deidre Anderson and Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans
RLPA chair Deidre Anderson and Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans ©Courtesy RLPA

Anderson has been on the RLPA board for over three years now. She witnessed the horror off-season of player behaviour but feels the players are the ones who can turn it all around.

"I want to help empower the players to help with some of the challenges we're having," she said. "I'm a great believer that the solution to much of this lies in their hands, to be honest."

As for being a trail-blazer herself, Anderson isn't fussed.

"My whole life has been 'first ofs' and it's only when people raise with it me that I'm the first female that I think about it. And frankly I think it's horrible… it reminds me of how far we've got to go. So I don't feel like celebrating it."

But she is looking forward to working even closer with the players to respond to the sorts of things that the game will be confronted with in the future – new broadcast deals, new technologies and possibly new NRL teams.

So now for the hard question: Who talks the most in board meetings? James Maloney or Cameron Smith?

RLPA members Wade Graham and James Maloney
RLPA members Wade Graham and James Maloney ©Courtesy RLPA

"I reckon James Maloney eats more of those peppermint lollies they stick on board room tables, than anyone else I've ever seen," she said.

"But he's so passionate about our game you can see it. He can eat as many as he likes."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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