The Hall of Fame awards night has become a real focal point in our seasonal list of events – and that’s how it should be.
This year we had another four great recipients in Stacey Jones, Ruben Wiki, Danny Buderus and Craig Young. A new category was added in ‘Contributors’ and that’s going to prove as tough as the players in deciding who receives the award.
I think that category was well-received and the three inducted - JJ Giltinan (administration), Peter Frilingos (print media) and Ray Warren (broadcast media) - have played a crucial role in expanding the game’s profile and professional status.
Next year you will see a category for referees and coaches. The changing demographics of the game have really started to accelerate in recent years.
One example is that women are becoming very prevalent in all aspects of or our game. I’m not suggesting a separate category for women because they are all through our game now – as players, sports science and medical staff, as coaches, referees and officials.
Women are high in the ‘Contributors’ category already and that is only going to climb in the years ahead.
From the administrative point of view, we have to current female Commissioners in Megan Davis and Amanda Laing and one of the foundation members of the ARLC was Catherine Harris.
We have Rebecca Frizelle as the co-owner of a NRL club in the Titans; we’ve got Lynne Anderson as chair of the Bulldogs; we’ve had previous women as chairs, as Chief Executives and on the board of directors at clubs. This is becoming far more recognisable and desired as part of our game’s structures.
So the gender side of our game is changing. As the NRLW competition expands and grows as successfully as we think it will, then that opens up the avenue for more female coaches to not only come on staff with NRLW teams but in NRL clubs as well.
As the women’s game matures then more women with the technical and tactical knowledge will come forward. Women have an innate and natural capacity to support and care about their work environment – to want to make improvements - so that can only enhance our game.
We know women can be great administrators, so we know they will be great coaches as well.
On the playing side, since the NRL demographic contains 45% of players with a Polynesian background, we will start to see more Kiwis inducted alongside Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, Papua New Guineans and so on.
I think you will see Englishman popping up. In the past names like Tommy Bishop, Mal Reilly, Adrian Morley, Ellery Hanley, Kevin Ward and Garry Schofield all made their presence well and truly felt with grand finals and premierships.
And now English players are far more prevalent with names like Sam Burgess, brothers Tom and George, James Graham, Gareth Widdop, Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead, and John Bateman all players who can turn a game and all playing currently in the NRL.
So it’s not just Pacific Islanders and Super League players who are changing our demographics. We don’t really know where it will all end up but we’ve proudly got a very multicultural look about us already. Players want to return to their heritage, or they start out playing in World Cups for nations their forebears came from – think James Tedesco for Italy – before being selected in tier one nation teams.
There have been real pioneers in women’s journalism with people like Debbie Spillane, Rebecca Wilson and now the sports media not only has women writing and reporting on the game, we have women as sideline commentators, and as hosts of high-profile rugby league programs like Yvonne Sampson at Fox League and Erin Molan with the ‘Sunday Footy Show’ on Channel Nine.
So from a Hall of Fame point of view, we will see all these trends starting to emerge in the categories that are already established.
I feel we need to get into the ‘Volunteer’ space as well. Many mums make incredible contributions at the grass roots level, and while they get recognised in other avenues – such as the Dally M awards – I think soon the Hall of Fame needs to have the capacity to recognise that as well.