Ten most influential women in rugby league (Part 1)

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    While I may have known the names on this list, I must confess to knowing little about the women’s game itself.

    This ignorance led me to research, where I discovered – as if it were in doubt – that the story of the women who help rugby league succeed is one worth shouting from the rooftops.

    What’s more, all women – past and present – deserve recognition for their contribution to rugby league, especially the unsung heroes who contribute their time, energy, support, money and skill.

    The bold and brilliant move to play World Cup games for men and women at the same time elevates the women’s game to a status it has long deserved, although you may not have known it looking at the tournament website.

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    Not including pictures of female players from each nation in the fixtures, as they do for the men, just shouldn’t happen and was an opportunity badly, badly missed.

    Furthermore, while it is wonderful to acknowledge the contribution women have made, this list was created in the hope that one day it need no longer exist.

    That aside, let’s celebrate – in no particular order – the women who help make rugby league great.

    Katie Page – CEO of Harvey Norman and founder of Women in League
    Page was the first female on the NRL board, taking her place way back in 2004 in an appointment that made her the first woman to sit on the board of any major sport in Australia.

    As CEO of Harvey Norman, she’d probably appear on a list of influencers for most sports in the country. In rugby league however, you can’t move for a logo of the huge retail chain smacking you square in the eyes, even when making a tackle. In fact, if there was an available short sponsorship for an NRL team, blink and it would read ‘Harvey Norman’ before you knew it.

    For a long time, Page directly managed Harvey Norman’s ad spend, so it makes sense that she still plays an active role in where promotional dollars go.

    On top of that, they’ve aggressively spent money to promote women in sport, including the Harvey Norman Women in League round, an initiative Katie was instrumental in creating in 2007.

    Professor Megan Davis – Constitutional lawyer and ARL commissioner
    If you’re wondering, the Professor part means she’s wicked smart and not because she can drive a car like Alain Prost (contrary to the opinion of some, Prost was not strictly a professor).

    Megan Davis, however – sorry, Professor Davis – is a genuine professor and a stellar legal mind.

    Her list of qualifications, accolades and achievements is so voluminous, that it is for fairer scholars and writers than I to extol her virtues.

    With a seat on the board of the ARL Commission, Professor Davis’ influence upon the game is enormous.

    A constitutional lawyer and advocate for human rights, as well as the rights of the first peoples of Australia, while I’m certain she’ll be super chuffed by her inclusion on this list, it isn’t the only significant one upon which she’s appeared.

    This year she was named as one of Australia’s 100 women of influence by the Australian Financial Review, and one of 20 black women who changed Australia by NITV.

    Professor Davis is a prolific and eloquent tweeter, to the point I’m in such awe of her wordsmith-ish-ness and brevity that if I ever met her in the flesh, I’d probably pass out.

    Debbie Spillane – Sports journalist and host of ABC Grandstand
    This list is about influence. As host of ABC Grandstand, including the national broadcaster’s coverage of every NRL round, Debbie Spillane had to remain impartial and unbiased, while deftly navigating the tricky waters that surrounded hot topics each week.

    Her influence and placement on this list stems from the fact that when I was growing up she was the only female voice reporting on sport, let alone League.

    Spillane was the first full-time female sports journalist hired by the ABC, in 1984 – just in time to cover the Los Angeles Olympics. 1984. Think about that for a second. A man was on the moon 15 years earlier, but female broadcasters in sport basically didn’t exist in Australia before 1984.

    For that reason, everyone who has followed since – from Tracey Holmes to Erin Molan and Yvonne Sampson – has walked in Debbie’s shadow.

    From the first moments of her career, when Spillane spoke, her gender was an irrelevancy. Although in 1984 that wasn’t exactly straightforward, she was just so good you were sucked in to listen and absorb. Blessed with a superb radio voice and unparalleled knowledge of a variety of sports, she has been an inspiration to generation after generation of presenters, journalists and broadcasters.

    Barbara Davis – Former Newcastle Knights board member and leader of ‘Aussies for the ARL’
    Barbara Davis makes this list, as with Debbie Spillane, by virtue of her legacy more so than her current influence.

    Although still involved in the game at a grassroots level, Barbara was the driving force during the Super League war of ‘Aussies for the ARL’ and her influence in the Hunter region went a long way towards the Knights remaining ARL loyalists.

    Cue the Hunter Mariners and 1997 with two comps, but the result which captured the imagination was the Knights winning the ARL grand final. When Darren Albert crossed for the match-winning try in the dying seconds, not only was it better than Lego, it was the moment that the war effectively ended.

    Barbara went on to serve with distinction on the Knights board, as well as run several large local businesses and shopping centres. But the sport and many of the current players’ pay packets may not be the same today were it not for the tireless dedication of Barbara Davis in the late 1990s.

    Mary Konstantopoulos – Lawyer and founder of ‘Ladies who…’
    Recently, the social media interns at dressingshed towers had reason to speak with the lady known as ‘Mary K’ via twitter and she couldn’t have been more humble, helpful and responsive.

    The lawyer from Sydney is the power and brains behind ‘Ladies who…’, which is now a sprawling empire across many sports, and she still manages to write for a multitude of sites (including The Roar).

    Yes, she maintains a ‘proper’ day job while covering several sports from multiple multimedia angles.

    Yes, by comparison, you are lazy and sedentary.

    The quality of the guests she manages to attract, the depth of the discussions, and the breadth of topics covered not only display formidable media nous and her eye for a story, but a deftness and intelligence beyond most who do for a living what she manages in her spare time.

    A one-person whirlwind of energy, the game may have many fans, but none who dedicate themselves to the cause of promoting the sport – and the role of women in particular – purely for the love of it quite like Mary Konstantopoulos.