The role of women in rugby league has changed rapidly since the 2007 development of the Women in League Initiative by Katie Page. The rate of female players is at an all-time high, with a 27% increase between 2014 and 2015, and women are now officiating matches and playing significant roles in the business of clubs. With such a rich and dynamic development, it’s clear we need Women in League round more now than ever.
For the first time ever, Sunday’s interstate clash will be broadcast live on Fox Sports, and the 30 women selected by New South Wales have signed professional playing contracts, which include match payments. This follows a long a hard-fought battle by female players to be able to play at the highest level. In 1999, women’s rugby league was introduced by Queensland Rugby League’s State Carnival for women. This was the breakthrough and pathway for what is now competitions across almost all states, and New South Wales’ 2016 Pathways System, including more representative teams, a second-grade division, and more age divisions. It was through this system, that in 2016 Ruan Sims became the first female player to sign a playing contract with an NRL club. While this has been a long process, and there’s still much more to come, the NRL has built underrated foundations for what can be in the future a successful female competition.
While it hasn’t been as high profile as players, women are playing an increasing role in officiating NRL matches. While female referees and touch judges have been in local rugby league for quite some time, it’s only been the past few years that this has happened in the NRL. In 2014, Belinda Sleeman made history by becoming the first female to officiate an NRL match as a touch judge. She then made history again in 2016 when her and Kasey Badger became the first female referees to be included in the full-time elite match official’s squad. This behind the scenes role is a crucial part of our game, and women’s role in it is slowly developing.
Despite the success of these, it is through the business side of Rugby League that women are leaving possibly their biggest mark. In 2004, Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman, made history as the first woman to become a member of a major sporting board in Australia, when she was appointed to the Board of the National Rugby League. This paved the way for what has been a rapid increase in women in these roles. Raelene Castle became the first female NRL Club CEO in 2013, in what has since been a successful career with the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. In 2014, Rebecca Frizelle became the first female Chairperson of an NRL Club Board at the Gold Coast Titans. Females in this business are helping to publicise the role women play in the competition, and this is increasing even more.
These women have helped to build the NRL into the successful business and sporting competition that it is today, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. The NRL is slowly reaching equality in women’s role in rugby league, and hopefully in the coming years it’ll be worth the wait.
As a female supporter and player, I have the highest of hopes.
-The League Lady