This article was first written for and published for the NRL.com.
Along with the biggest crowd in history for a women’s rugby league match, I was part of something magical at North Sydney Oval on Friday night.
I will never ever forget the first women’s Holden State of Origin match at North Sydney Oval.
It was an opportunity to celebrate how far women’s rugby league has come in the last few years, but it also gave me the chance to reflect on my personal journey with the women’s game.
To think when I first started following footy I had no idea that women could even play, to now being at a point where so many of the women on the field at North Sydney Oval are my role models, inspirations and friends is massive.
I know I am not alone in idolising these women – boys and girls can now grow up looking up to players like Kalyn Ponga, Sammy Bremner, Clint Gutherson, Maddie Studdon, Boyd Cordner, Karina Brown, Cameron Munster and Ali Brigginshaw. And this is the way it should have always been.
I felt immense pride for every woman that took the field and I know the players share my tremendous respect for the women that have come before them and paved the way to a point where the men’s and women’s fixtures are now on equal footing.
Even though I watched a great game of footy, I couldn’t tell you what the final score was.
I know the NSW Blues won.
I can only recall certain moments from the game. I remember Isabelle Kelly scored and Kezie Apps also almost scored too. I remember Corban McGregor going off injured and seeing Kody House warming up on the sideline. I remember the crowd standing on its feet at the full-time siren and Maddie Studdon being swamped by her teammates after becoming the first women’s captain to win an Origin.
I remember getting to run on the field and the players being on the field while kids, some not so young, swarmed them at all angles. They were genuine, pure and most importantly themselves.
Maybe I don’t remember the score because it was about so much more than a result. It was about so many people that have championed and pushed and advocated and demanded so much more for the women’s game for so long. This match was for all of us.
It was a chance to celebrate a very special moment for our game, and a history-making one at that.
When my eyes weren’t on the field, they were on the crowd to see the faces and the people that had gathered to watch women’s sport take centre stage.
When I shut my eyes, I can still hear the roar from the crowd when the two teams ran onto the field led by Studdon and Queensland’s Karina Brown. I remember laughter. I remember cheers of support. I remember boys and girls chasing each other, footballs in hand pretending to be Billy Slater and Kezie Apps.
There were also plenty of people who were watching with pride. I know for so many people in the crowd this game was the manifestation of a pipe dream they never thought they would see eventuate.
Like Tarsha Gale, a former NSW and Australian captain, who played in the first Interstate Challenge 20 years ago. Tarsha was such a pioneer that the NSWRL named a competition in her honour – the Tarsha Gale Cup. This competition for girls runs alongside the junior representative leagues.
On Thursday night, Tarsha had the opportunity to present the Blues women with their jerseys and I know how proud she was to do so.
Former Jillaroos and Queensland Maroons representatives were also there like Karyn Murphy and Jo Barrett. Many of you would have heard Jo in commentary on Channel 9 with Phil Gould and James Bracey.
Gavin and Kasey Badger were there. Kasey is a woman that may have had some mixed feelings. She became a referee because there was no longer an opportunity for her to play footy. I know how much she would have loved the game, but I’m sure there was also a small part of her wishing that she had had her chance.
Then there was my little friend Amaya Clarke who is five years old and has just started playing footy. Her heroes are Bec Young and Caitlin Moran and when you ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, she answers “play footy”.
know the celebrations continued long into the night. But as I left with the rest of the crowd and the Friday night lights started to dim, I had a small moment of reflection on the giant step that this match represented in our game.
I reflected on women like Kasey who never got the chance to play rugby league at this level, I reflected on women like Steph Hancock who has waited so long for her opportunity and finally received it. And I reflected on the next generation of women who I don’t even know yet but will get their opportunity because of the work that has gone into this evening.
The best part is, we are just getting started.
Now the countdown is well and truly on to the beginning of the inaugural Holden Women’s Premiership which will kick off in September. I hope we can channel the momentum from Origin and keep it going for the remainder of what has already been a history-making year.
And to the 6824 people who came out to North Sydney Oval, a big thank you for putting on a celebration worthy of those women that took the field. You were there when history happened.