This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Women in League Round is only one week in the calendar, it’s a great opportunity for each of us to consider how we can play our part in making the sport more inclusive all year round.
As fans we have powerful voices and we can use those voices to help drive change.
I’m often asked what is a really simple way to show support for women in sport?
There’s an easy answer to this question – get your bum on a seat.
This year with the decision to make the Telstra Women’s Premiership a stand-alone competition, we have an opportunity to demonstrate how valuable the women’s game has become.
Whether your club has a team in the NRLW or not, if you love women’s footy I encourage you to watch the games – whether that be live at a game or via broadcast.
The numbers don’t lie and now the NRLW is no longer a curtain raiser to the NRL finals, there is an opportunity here to really show support for the competition.
It’s quite simple, the more people that watch or attend, the more attention the women’s game gets and the greater the opportunity for sponsorship which leads to better support for our players.
As fans we also have a really important role in sharing the rugby league story, particularly with people who may not be as familiar with the game as we are.
In the past, rugby league has at times had a perception problem, especially when it comes to women.
But when you take the opportunity to educate people and tell them about the myriad ways women are involved in the game, then that perception can change.
Women like Belinda Sharpe who was the first woman to referee a professional men’s first-grade match in 2019.
After refereeing the 2020 NRLW grand final, I am hopeful she gets that same chance this year, hopefully alongside her will be Kasey Badger on the touchlines.
What about the women of the past, particularly players, whose shoulders we stand on now?
Now, as we watch the next generation of players emerging like Tamika Upton, Botille Vette-Welsh, Jessica Sergis and Corban Baxter, the women of the past remain involved as broadcaster like Tarsha Gale or Jo Barrett, as administrators like Katrina Fanning or recognised with awards named after them like Karyn Murphy, Veronica White and Nellie Doherty.
The NRL has also led the way by sending a strong message about its zero-tolerance approach to players charged with serious criminal offences, including domestic violence and sexual assault.
Then there are the women involved in the administration of our game like Professor Megan Davis and Kate Jones who sit on the ARL Commission and the women involved in the media including Yvonne Sampson, Danika Mason, Pam Whaley, Niav Owens and Alicia Newton.
The importance of Women in League Round is recognising how far we’ve come – I first started following the sport when I was eight because I wanted to spend more time with my dad and because he cheered for the Parramatta Eels, so did I.
It wasn’t long before my favourite thing to do on the weekend was cuddle up to my dad on the coach to watch the game together or, if I was lucky, to go and sit on the hill at Parramatta Stadium so I could wave my flag at the players when they scored a try.
Looking back on that now, I almost feel a sense of shame.
Even though I was a passionate footy fan growing up, I never stopped to question or to ask whether girls could play footy too. I always just assumed that footy was a sport for the boys.
It’s because you can’t be what you can’t see and back then women playing footy were invisible to me. But when I look around now, how dramatically things have changed.
Women In League Round gives an opportunity to celebrate the many women who are involved in our game in various valuable ways – from fans, to volunteers, to administrators, players and referees.
This year, the round also gives us the opportunity to celebrate the families of our players.
Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our players have been forced to move country and state to keep our competition going, often at very short notice.
Behind this scenes, this disruption also impacts families, so it’s important we recognise their contribution too.
I see tremendous opportunity for women to be more involved in the leadership of our game at the ARLC level and at a club level.
Kylie Hilder and Tahnee Norris are leading the way in the coaching space, but women in coaching is another area where there is real chance for growth.
I see the women’s game continue to grow and flourish with the introduction of more teams and greater opportunity for more women to play footy at the elite level.
When I look back on how much has been achieved in a short space of time, it makes me really excited for what the future of our game holds. Most importantly, little boys and little girls now grow up knowing that there is a place in rugby league for everyone, no matter what role they want to play.