This story was first written for and published by The Roar.
In Week 1 of the NRL finals, two very special women will make history.
On Friday night, in the game between the Sydney Roosters and the Brisbane Broncos, Kasey Badger will become the first female to officiate an NRL finals game.
Not far behind her is Belinda Sleeman, who will run the touchline in the game between the Penrith Panthers and the Manly Sea Eagles.
Earlier this week, Phil Rothfield wrote an article critical of the NRL and Tony Archer because neither Kasey nor Belinda had been given their opportunity to officiate a first-grade match this season. According to Buzz, last week’s game between the Wests Tigers and New Zealand Warriors would have been a perfect opportunity to give one of these women an opportunity, given the match stakes were so low.
Part of me wants to agree with Buzz and part of me wants to trust the process.
Kasey often jokes that “refereeing is the world’s longest apprenticeship” and I would have to agree. Both of these women have had the opportunity to referee in the Holden Cup and the State Cup, and form an integral part of the overall emerging referees squad.
Some have labelled the referee performances this year as the ‘worst ever’, and questioned why Kasey and Belinda have not been given an opportunity. While I can certainly point to some awful decisions, we as a rugby league community spend too much time levelling blame at the referees, when perhaps coaches and players should be looking in their own backyards first.
Featuring in the 2017 finals series means that Belinda and Kasey are both one step closer to making their first grade refereeing debut.
Watch this space, I expect it will happen next year.
Victoria dominate AFLW State of Origin
Last weekend, Victoria claimed a massive 97-point win over the Allies in the inaugural AFLW State of Origin, with the final score of 17.11.113 to 2.6.16.
For Victoria, Daisy Pearce was a stand-out, with 37 disposals and one goal, while Jasmine Garner kicked five goals, including four in the second half alone.
A bad night was made even worse for the Allies with injuries to captain Chelsea Randall, Emma Zielke and Kirby Bentley.
It’s clear that while the AFLW has been a tremendous success, there is still plenty of work to do – not just in ensuring the competition is a more level playing field, and talent is equally dispersed around the country, but also that players are training appropriately to ensure the risk of injury is minimised.
This is also an issue in rugby league. Heading into this year’s Interstate Challenge, Brad Donald was confident that a lack of game time would see some injuries sustained – and he was absolutely right.
We have a responsibility to ensure that when we are thinking about our women’s competitions, sustainability is always at the forefront.
Cricket is coming
As the AFL and NRL seasons draw to a close, we are getting closer to another summer of cricket.
This week, Cricket Australia launched its next five-year strategy and, rightly so, women and girls were a key focus – alongside grassroots and junior cricket.
Women and girls are not a new area of thinking for cricket, but the strategy made me reflect on how much cricket has achieved in the last two years. We have seen the introduction of the Women’s Big Bash League, the NSW Breakers become Australia’s first professional domestic team, Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association agreed to terms which included a landmark pay deal for female cricketers, and the name of the Southern Stars was changed to the Australian Women’s Cricket Team for use in official circumstances.
Imagine what we can do in the next five years together, particularly with the World T20 being held in Australia in 2020. The sky’s the limit and it all begins in just over a month’s time with the women’s Ashes.
Cronulla Sharks celebrate
Last weekend, the Cronulla Sharks celebrated their inaugural women’s team presentation night.
The Sharks are true leaders, with a complete pathway for women to play rugby league.
I want to congratulate all the women who received awards on the night – both the Cronulla Sharks nines team and the Tarsha Gale team.
I also wanted to extend special congratulations to Amanda King, who organised the evening. Amanda recognised the importance of placing these women front and centre, and celebrating their achievements. Amanda was also a volunteer manager for both teams (or what I like to call the resident ‘mother hen’) and spent countless hours supporting and encouraging these women to pursue their rugby league dreams.
Amanda, it is because of women like you that our game is slowly beginning to change.
What are you doing this weekend?
If you are based in Sydney, like me, I encourage you to head out to Macquarie University on Saturday and Sunday for the second round of the University 7s to cheer on your team.
You won’t get another opportunity like this to watch up-and-coming talent, as well as see plenty of the gold-medal winning squad from Rio play together.