Women’s sport weekly wrap: All about participation in league and rugby

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert


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    When our major sports talk about establishing women’s competitions, one of the key words is sustainability.

    It’s important that we aim to develop competitions that are exciting, marketable and that feature exceptional talent, but the core obligation must be to ensure our competitions are sustainable. There is no point in a sport deciding to introduce a women’s competition if there is not enough talent to go around or if there isn’t enough talent to make sure that the competition is sustainable in the long-term.

    There were two codes I wanted to congratulate this week for tournaments held to encourage female participation in their various sports.

    Let’s start with the NRL.

    Yesterday, the biggest schoolgirl’s rugby league competition in the history of the game took place at Macquarie University.

    Over 500 girls flocked to Sydney’s north-west to participate in the inaugural Female State Finals Day and plenty of locations in New South Wales were represented. There were teams from Sydney’s metro and regional areas and some came from as far as Tweed Heads and Bourke to participate. The 32 teams featured across many age groups with girls from years 5/6, years 7/8 participating as well as women from the under 16s and Opens age brackets.

    This tournament came to life due to a combined effort by the NRL and NSWRL. The categories are a mixture from the NSWRL’s All Schools Carnival and the NRL Legends Shield. By combining these categories, yesterday represented the largest gathering of female rugby league talent that this country has ever seen.

    On several occasions, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has said how important it is for the women’s game to be sustainable. To put it in perspective, we are still yet to see a woman represent Australia who has played rugby league from under 6s to opens level. The young women that featured in today’s tournament will go a long way to making sure this happens and soon.

    Interestingly, sustainability and quality of competition is also something on the radar of the current Australian Jillaroos squad. When Brad Donald took over as Jillaroos coach last year, he had a meeting with the playing squad and asked them about their goals. Apart from winning a Rugby League World Cup, the squad also wanted to act as role models and encourage the next generation of women to give rugby league a go. They also wanted to make it clear that there are opportunities for women to play rugby league – no matter where they live in Australia.

    The women’s game is the fastest growing part of the rugby league family and the NRL is on track to register a 31 per cent increase in participation this year alone.

    And with tournaments like this, alongside the NRL’s National School Strategy which means that every time there is a male rugby league offering in schools there will also be a female offering and the two major state wide competitions for women – the Karyn Murphy competition in Queensland and the Legends Shield in New South Wales which goes from under 11s to opens, I expect this participation figure to continue to grow.

    Maddie Studdon Australia Jillaroos Rugby League Anzac Test 2017

    (Image: NRL)

    Now onto rugby.

    I may have been critical of the ARU over the last couple of weeks, particularly in relation to their XV women’s strategy, but I’m really pleased to see an ongoing commitment to the 7s format of the game.

    Today, the inaugural AON Women’s University Sevens Series begins. The first leg of the tournament will be played at the University of Tasmania Stadium, Launceston.

    In an interesting move, it’s been decided that the Australian Women’s Sevens squad will be split up, with two members of the squad playing in each of the eight teams. This means that not only is talent evenly distributed, but it also gives our squad the opportunity to teach the next generation of players and act as mentors to them.

    It will also make transition from the old to the new much easier when that happens.

    To give you a flavour of how talent will be distributed – Alicia Quirk and Hannah Southwell will play for the University of New England, Dominique Du Toit and Chloe Dalton will play for Macquarie University, Ellia Green, Georgie Friedrichs and Shanice Parker will play for the University of Tasmania, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite and Mahalia Murphy will play for The University of Adelaide, Sharni Williams and Brooke Anderson will play for the University of Canberra, Shannon Parry and Demi Hayes will play for Griffith University, Charlotte Caslick and Brooke Walker will play for Bond University and Emilee Cherry and Emma Sykes will play for the University of Queensland.

    The tournament will conclude in September and there will be five rounds held.

    With a Commonwealth Games approaching next year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games looming, initiatives like this will make sure that when it comes time to select teams, Australia will have an impressive talent pool.

    If you are keen to tune in, the tournament will be streamed at rugby.com.au and if you are based in Sydney, join me on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September at Macquarie University to see the New South Wales leg of the competition.

    I look forward to watching participation in both these sports continue to grow because of tournaments like this.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • August 25th 2017 @ 8:18am
      Galatzo said | August 25th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Excellent report, Mary. I’m currently overseas but will try to pick up the streaming. Fortunately, the women’s RU champs are covered by TSN. The Kiwis versus the US was a real good game. Saturday, we’ll see the final with NZ up against England. Many backs playing Super Rugby could learn from Portia Woodman although they wouldn’t admit it. What a runner she is.

      • Columnist

        August 25th 2017 @ 11:43am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 25th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        Thanks very much, Galatzo – so glad to hear that you have been tuning in to the Women’s Rugby World Cup. I was proud of the effort that our Wallaroos put in and am looking to the ARU to continue funding them so that they can continue to improve.

    • Roar Guru

      August 25th 2017 @ 10:21am
      Adam said | August 25th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Will tune into the live stream also. I went to UTAS so hope they manage to do well!!

    • August 25th 2017 @ 11:09am
      Mike Dugg said | August 25th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

      Well done Mary

    • August 25th 2017 @ 11:43am
      Perry Bridge said | August 25th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      Hi Mary,

      Something you’ve missed in your “Women’s Sports Weekly” wrap.

      The 6th AFL International Cup wrapped up on the weekend and for the 3rd time there was a womens division. This year saw 8 nations/sides competing – defending champions Canada, Ireland, USA, Fiji returning from 2014, PNG returning after participating in 2011 and debuts from Great Britain, Pakistan and a European Crusaders side (mostly French).

      The Womens Grand Final moved this year to Etihad Stadium – and with the Mens Div 1 GF held earlier in the day at the MCG – the final act of the tournament was the Irish come from behind narrow win over Canada.

      Great Britain the day before won into 3rd ahead of the USA and Fiji over PNG into 5th.

      Womens AFL (the AFLW) might seem as though womens footy is a relatively new thing – however – for 6 years now the AFL has known that there is a cut through internationally and that is growing. Speaking to participants from the US, Canada and Britain the consistent theme is that they wish they’d known about the game sooner and that when they started playing it they were hooked.

      This is in part about the expanding options available to women to pursue – which is a good thing.

      The Canadian captain Aimee Legault is an interesting stroywas a semi pro soccer player in Canada – having played since age 4, she’d represented Quebec, taken a soccer scholarship to the USA and played in the W-League there. But – after playing semi-pro for 4 years – she took a break and as she puts it “this is when I found the love of my life”.

      Now – these are her words and very interesting too –

      “Discovering footy was one the best things that has ever happened to me. I found my true calling. Footy became my obsession. In 2009, with my sister Margo, we joined the Quebec Saints AFL Club and then started a women’s team.
      I was driven to learn from the most experienced. I wanted to grow as a player. Being limited to developing in North America, I hungered to learn from the best. So I headed to Victoria, home of the highest level of women’s footy in the world. I embarked on a journey that forever changed me after joining the East Burwood Devils. They taught me the real meaning of being a team and what footy is all about.”

      Many of the matches in IC17 were streamed and the womens GF is available here:

      • Columnist

        August 25th 2017 @ 11:44am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 25th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

        Thank you so much for sharing this! I had no idea this was even happening. Really appreciate you bringing it to my attention (and what a wonderful story!)

        • August 25th 2017 @ 12:59pm
          Beavis said | August 25th 2017 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

          Is it true that Ruan Sims is the only womans RL player contracted by the RL?

          • Columnist

            August 25th 2017 @ 1:24pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 25th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            Not true! There are a couple of others too including Maddie Studdon.

      • August 25th 2017 @ 2:10pm
        clipper said | August 25th 2017 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

        What are the eligibility rules on the Womens side, Perry Bridge – I think the Mens are allowed up to 3 Australian origin players, Is it the same – are the majority born in that country and speak the national language?
        Good to have the wrap up again Mary – good news on the tennis front with Ash Barty beating Venus and Gavrilova into the semis at Connenticut.

        • August 25th 2017 @ 7:27pm
          Justin Kearney said | August 25th 2017 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

          Good to see perry and clipper turn this discussion into an afl love in. Same as it ever was.

          • August 25th 2017 @ 10:53pm
            duecer said | August 25th 2017 @ 10:53pm | ! Report

            To be fair to Perry Bridge and Clipper, the headline is Womens sport weekly wrap and if you have been following Mary, she does include most sports over time, even if she concentrates on one or two at a time, as in this week with RU and RL. I don’t know anything about the AFL cup, but would assume that the more Aussies in the team, the stronger it becomes, and harder for other teams to beat.
            Ashleigh is also in the Womens Doubles semis, so more good new for the Aussies.

            • August 26th 2017 @ 6:58am
              Justin Kearney said | August 26th 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

              And if i hadn’t seen pezza and clip hijack league discussions with their afl obsession on literally dozens of occasions i would not have made the comment.

              • August 27th 2017 @ 10:49am
                duecer said | August 27th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

                Maybe so, but it comes across as quite petty, especially since they kept to the topic and didn’t even mention RL.
                BTW – great news for Gavrilova – winning the Connecticut open, beating the No. 1 and 2 seeds on the way. Ash and Casey fell agonisingly close in the doubles, 10 – 8 in the tie break set.

        • August 28th 2017 @ 7:25am
          Perry Bridge said | August 28th 2017 @ 7:25am | ! Report


          The eligibility varies mostly for a debut nation – for example when Pakistan mens debuted in 2014 there were greater allowances on Australian based players.

          The rules are largely around where the player was aged 10-16. The vast majority of players are travelling from their home nations however there are players from most nations who find a way to spend a year or two in Australia studying/working and playing footy for the experience that can’t be had anywhere else. Community sports the way it’s done in Australia is almost unique in the world.

          There were limits put on the number of Aust based players though – as the Irish could pretty well field a full mens and womens team on that basis.

          “Each squad must have no more than 12 players who are based in Australia at the time of submitting team lists and that of those 12 players, the squad has no more than 3 players who have played Australian Football for 5 or more consecutive years in Australia (including the 2017 season) leading into IC17.”

          Now I know a Brit (and his story was told more widely this tournament) who first came to Aus as a member of the GB team in 2005 having just taken up the game – he subsequently fell in love with Australia, with the game, moved here – married an Australian – plays footy locally and just competed in his 5th tournament. And he loves it dearly.

          The languages and ethnicities mean that many of the footy sights and sounds that we are used to appear just slightly different. The national anthems are sung with pride and then – in the cases of PNG, NZ, Fiji (Tonga in previous years – they didn’t make it this year) – the war dance pre-game. Some squads have English speaking coaches – others are fully their mother tongue.

          • August 28th 2017 @ 3:20pm
            clipper said | August 28th 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

            It’s a balancing act – if you don’t allow a reasonable number of ex-pats you could have some very one sided games, but if you allow too many, it becomes farcical and you could end up with a team where no one speaks the local language. I’m surprised that there is a team in Tonga, as it’s very much Rugby territory there.

            • August 29th 2017 @ 1:08pm
              Perry Bridge said | August 29th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

              The important thing being that the ‘ex-pats’ are not Australians overseas coming back here – and the ideal is to help encourage development back in the home nations.

              Tonga – is like many examples of it takes a committed family, village and something can happen. The Mahina family – in particular Malakai (who was a Rugby star for Tonga) – his son Peni gravitated to AFL after a clinic at his school – – and the dad supported the son. Tonga Tigers debuted at the IC11, and then the womens side came along as well for IC14.

    • August 25th 2017 @ 1:01pm
      Onside said | August 25th 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      Mary,I think you and The Roar could put something like this together with brief interviews covering several sports ,not just one .


      • Columnist

        August 25th 2017 @ 1:25pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 25th 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

        I’m up for it if the Roar are. I also do a weekly podcast where we talk about plenty of different sports. Try searching ‘Ladies who League’ podcast and you should find it.

        I would also rather go into depth about one or two sports in these articles than try to cram too much in – I’ve done rugby league, rugby union, basketball, softball, touch football, football, AFL and cricket…

        • August 25th 2017 @ 2:55pm
          Onside said | August 25th 2017 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

          I agree Mary, the idea is about a fun article to make a serious point , rather than in depth analysis.

    • August 25th 2017 @ 6:51pm
      Jacko said | August 25th 2017 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

      Mary the Womens Wc going on at the moment has been amazing to watch. As a mad Kiwi supporter I taped the first game they played and found the quality and skill to be soooooooo good i recorded a number of other matches just to enjoy the skills on show. My Neice plays touch and the first thing I did was tell her to get ready to tackle as there is now a path for a PRO womens rugby comp if these skills are anything to go by. Even in the match NZ v Singapore, where the final score was 127-0 the Singapore girls were still tackling hard and running hard at the end of the match and they earnt my respect that day. Womens rugby is not just gaining momentum in the traditional rugby nations but also in places like the USA which is a testament to the effect of 7s being an olympic sport. looking forward 10-20 years I see a very successful Womans pro comp underway in Aus and in many other countries and if the skill levelcontinues it will be a major success………Bring it on…

      • August 25th 2017 @ 7:31pm
        Justin Kearney said | August 25th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

        Watched the womens rugby world cup last night and the body contact was amazing. The league world cup will be a beauty as well. Great to see both codes grow female participation. Womens rugby has taken off here in tassie. Mind you the mens game is all but dead here so womens rugby here we come.