The questions facing women’s State of Origin

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com

Women’s State of Origin last Friday night was a roaring success.

More than 10,000 filled North Sydney Oval to watch two skilful, physical and competitive games of rugby league and they were joined by a television audience of over 1.5 million people on Channel Nine alone.

At the end of the game, the fans stormed the ground and there were queues of people waiting to get a photo, autograph or cuddle with their idols.

The next day social media was alight with questions about women’s rugby league and in particular questions about where do we go from here?

I caught up with Jamie Feeney who is the Elite Female Pathways Manager at the NRL to get the answers to some burning questions.

Why are women’s Origin and NRLW matches 30 minutes per half and international fixtures are 40 minutes?

The simple answer to this question is that the NRL has jurisdiction over State of Origin and the NRLW, while the Rugby League International Federation has jurisdiction over internationals.

This is an area of key focus for the NRL who have plenty of data on both injuries and intensity of the footy played.

In the past, the Interstate Challenge was played in 40-minute halves and it was noticeable that the back ends of the game decreased in quality resulting in more errors and more injuries.

“We want to make sure the quality and intensity of play reflects the amount of training and preparation that the female players get,” Feeney said.

“They are not full-time professional athletes. They do not play 40-minute games each week.”

At the moment, the women’s competition in NSW is played in 30-minute halves and the QLD competition in 35-minute halves. Thirty-five-minute halves may be the next step.

Why was the Women’s State of Origin a stand-alone? Would it be better if played as part of a double-header with the men?

No. This is not what the players want.

“They would much rather be in front of 10,500 [people] at North Sydney Oval or a similar venue rather than playing in front of their friends and family prior to a men’s Origin where people come to watch the men’s game,” Feeney said.

Let’s be realistic. When the under 18’s men take the field before the men’s State of Origin how many people are in the crowd? Not many. The men’s fixture is the main event and as a result, most fans turn up in the half an hour before kick-off.

Everyone that was there on Friday night was there to watch women’s rugby league. It is worthy of being a stand-alone fixture.

Feeney said “the game has grown beyond the point where they don’t deserve their own stand-alone game. The appetite is there and the women love it”.

Why isn’t women’s State of Origin a three-game series?

When Boyd Cordner is selected to play for the NSW Blues he will generally receive a phone call and be ready to head into Blues camp the next day. While he is in camp, his focus is solely on his rugby league.

When women like Kezie Apps, Annette Brander and Chelsea Baker are selected by the Blues or Queensland they need at least a week’s notice so that they can ask for time off work and organise time away from their families.

While the women are still compensated for playing rugby league at an Origin level via a match fee, it is not anywhere near the amount that the men are paid.

Our female players cannot justify the amount of time away from their jobs that a three-game series would demand.

There is also a question of depth of talent. If there are injuries which happen during the game, there needs to be enough talent to replace those players.

The NRL wants to make sure that if there is a three-game series, each game would be the quality of the game we saw on Friday. Given the immaturity of the women’s game we aren’t there yet.

But watch this space; in years to come I’m confident that we will progress to a three-game series.

Has women’s Origin outgrown North Sydney Oval?

This is the million-dollar question. But how positive is it that this is a discussion we are having.

My view is that it has outgrown North Sydney Oval and that potential options for the future include Leichhardt Oval and Bankwest Stadium.

Remember, it is likely that the next women’s State of Origin will be held in Queensland, so that gives us two years to build the game up to a point where 20,000 spectators becomes the new norm.