Mary’s Wonder Women: Rugby joins the women’s sport party

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    For Rugby Australia, 2017 will be a year some key stakeholders will quickly want to forget. It’s a year that will be remembered for stoushes in the Super Rugby, uncertainty at an administrative level and concern about the performance of the Wallabies on the world stage.

    It’s a shame that plenty of important achievements, particularly in the women’s rugby space will be overshadowed by some of this other noise.

    But the good news is, if 2018 follows the lead of the final few weeks of 2017, then it could be the year that changes the face of Australian rugby forever – and in the best possible way.

    It’s been a week of big announcements.

    It started on Tuesday with the announcement that Raelene Castle had officially been appointed the new CEO of Rugby Australia, making her the first woman to lead a major Australian football code.

    Raelene will join other women of influence in the rugby union space including Pip Marlow, Josephine Sukkar, Elizabeth Broderick AO and Ann Sherry AO. With a group of women as smart, passionate and inspiring as this group, I expect to see rugby continue to contribute significantly to the diversity conversation in the year to come.

    I’m not going to lie. Raelene is not walking into an easy job. There are concerns about the financial situation of Australian rugby. Whispers of an old and tired regime. A code that is struggling in the wake of competition from other codes.

    But I am confident Raelene is more than up to the task. A talented administrator who has worked in netball and rugby league, she is up for a challenge – and rugby is certainly a sport that is facing plenty.

    I look forward to watching Raelene win over hearts and minds in rugby – just as she did in rugby league.

    Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle

    Raelene Castle is the new Rugby Australia CEO. (AAP Image/Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)

    Not content with one good news announcement this week, on Wednesday Rugby AU also announced the launch of its Super W competition.

    Rugby now joins other codes in Australia like football, cricket, rugby league and AFL with a professional women’s competition of its own and an established pathway for young women to move from grassroots all the way to the elite level and play with the Wallaroos.

    This new competition will feature five teams – Queensland, NSW, ACT, Victoria and Western Australia – and will start in March 2018. The competition will run for six weeks and the final will be in April.

    This announcement did come as a surprise to me, particularly considering the decision earlier this year by Josephine and Tony Sukkar to stop contributing financially to the NRC because there was no talk of establishing a women’s competition.

    But ignoring the XVs space was no longer an option for rugby, particularly after the increased focus on the Wallaroos in 2017 which saw them head to Ireland to compete in a Rugby World Cup with more game time experience than they had ever had.

    The Wallaroos finished sixth – but I know with sustained focus, the Wallaroos can do better.

    In order for the Wallaroos to be able to compete against some of the top rugby nations in the world, they need to be given the opportunity to play more rugby and Rugby AU needs to continue to focus on the development of a talent pool.

    Ensuring that little girls who want to play rugby see that there is a professional opportunity to play their sport, is a very good way to start.

    Disappointingly though, and where the ARU has gone wrong with this move is that the players are considered amateurs and will not be remunerated for their efforts. This begs the question – why are the ARU doing this? Are they doing it to save face in the wake of other code announcements or are they doing it to prevent their players switching to other codes.

    Here’s a message for the ARU – if you want to create an elite, marketable, sustainable and exciting product, players must be professional. It is not fair to place training, media and additional commitments on these players when all of them will need to hold down a job or have another form of regular income to see them play in this competition.

    Unfortunately, this issue really soured the announcement for me and I wonder what impact it will have on the women considering giving up their time, requesting annual leave from work and risking injury for no remuneration.

    Additionally, Rugby AU also confirmed that it would bid for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

    Raelene Castle. Super W. Women’s Rugby World Cup. More of this please and far less bickering about the state of the Super Rugby.

    While the focus has very much been on the XV format of the game this week, our Aussie Pearls continue their training and preparation ahead of the next leg of the World Sevens series which will happen from the 26th to 28th of January in Sydney.

    The Pearls won the last Series in Dubai and will look to continue this winning form as they return to Australian soil.

    One woman who is looking forward to being part of the squad to take part in Sydney is Cassie Staples, who made her World Series debut in Langford this year.

    Cassie has quite the story.

    A talented athlete, who played netball at an elite level in her teenage years, Cassie heard some of the people at her gym talking about rugby about a year ago and decided it was time for a new challenge.

    But there was work to be done. Coming from a netball background, Cassie had never competed in a sport with contact. So before taking the field to learn the finer points of the game, Cassie’s trainer, who was helping train current UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker at the time, decided to take her to a wrestling session to see what her instincts were like in contact.

    Cassie described that wrestling session as the “hardest form of exercise [she had] ever done”, but her coach was satisfied with her response to contact and it was time to take the field.

    It didn’t take long for Pearls coach Tim Walsh and his staff to notice Cassie after they saw her competing at the Lake Macquarie 7s via YouTube video.

    Cassie was invited to Rugby AU for a training day where Tim armed her with a list of ‘must-haves’ for rugby sevens, including the ability to pass left and right at speed and with distance.

    After plenty of hard work and hours of training, Cassie was invited back and played her first tournament with the development team in Darwin.

    Since then, Cassie has been busy. She has competed in the University of Canberra women’s sevens side in the AON rugby sevens series, which has proved to be a very important scouting tool for the Pearls coaches ahead of the World Series.

    She also competed in the first leg of the World Series in Dubai and is looking ahead to the next leg in Sydney early next year.

    This rise has all happened in the space of one year. The humble athlete that she is, Cassie says that the journey has been nothing but ‘unreal’ and that she feels truly grateful to be given the opportunity.

    But everyone who has had the opportunity to meet this young woman knows the hours of hard work and dedication that has gone into turning her into one of the brightest and most promising rugby sevens talent this country has.

    Just watch the impact that she makes in Sydney and then, onto the Commonwealth Games.

    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 (75)

    • December 15th 2017 @ 8:20am
      Working Class Rugger said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      Rugby actually have been in the women’s sports game prior to these announcements. And the Super W isn’t the first elite competition for women in Australian Rugby. The AON 7s which launched this year was. And the Pearls have been professional for a few seasons now.

      I do agree that Super W not being professional off the bat is somewhat disappointing but from memory neither will the NRL’s competition to begin with either. Hopefully, we’ll see a transition to professionalism occur as things progress. Then there’s the matter of the IPRC who are looking to launch professional 15s and 7s for women.

      • Columnist

        December 15th 2017 @ 8:27am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        WRC, you are right. The 7s women are professional and I should have mentioned that in my article.

        I think the reason it alluded me is because I don’t think of 7s as one of our major sporting codes. But you are right, I should have mentioned it.

        The fact that the 7s women are professional and have had such success really makes me wonder even more why the ARU have made this decision. They have seen the success of the 7s – why not try to emulate that in the XV format too?

        As for the NRL – details on that have not been released yet, but at least 40 Jillaroos will be contracted next year. So they will certainly be paid to play.

        • Roar Guru

          December 15th 2017 @ 9:09am
          PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

          it is a fine aspiration to have to pay everyone.

          Please outline how much you think that RA can afford to pay right now considering their parlous financial straight.

          For 5 teams of say squads of 30 players there will be travel and perhaps accomodation costs for the 5 weeks, ground hire etc.

          Also consider it is for 6 weeks of play a year.

          10k each will cost 1.5m extra a year on top of the other costs.

          • Columnist

            December 15th 2017 @ 10:01am
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

            To be honest, PeterK, it’s not my job to look at the financial of Australian Rugby.

            Take away some of the money fed into the Wallabies. Take away some of the monstrous salaries paid to people at the ARU.

            It is disrespectful and will hurt the sport in the long term not to pay these women for their time.

            Take a look at the wages for the first season of the AFLW – some players were receiving $5K for the whole season.

            If the ARU couldn’t afford to do this right, then they shouldn’t have done it at all.

            It is ludicrous to expect these women to train, to do media and to do plenty more for nothing. Will these games cost money to go to? Will they be televised? Will merchandise be sold? If the ARU makes even $1 dollar out of this competition and the women are not being paid, they should be ashamed of themselves.

            • December 15th 2017 @ 10:09am
              Fionn said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

              The Wallabies and Super Rugby are basically the only revenue raising ventures in Australian rugby so far as I’m aware.

              I wouldn’t be cutting any of the money paid to the Wallabies or Super Rugby as I think it would likely have a negative flow on impact longterm as results decline and fewer people attend matches as a result.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 10:15am
                Fionn said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

                Not saying that the women shouldn’t be professional, but I wouldn’t be finding my money by cutting funding from the Wallabies.

                Whether we like it or not, the Wallabies ARE Australian rugby. When they are successful the game is successful in Australia, when they do poorly the game struggles.

              • Columnist

                December 15th 2017 @ 10:20am
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

                Fionn, I hear what you are saying. My response was more about there being money SOMEWHERE to be able to pay these athletes.

                What about a sponsor?

                And as for having a negative long term impact, I’ve been to a Waratahs game this year. I’m not sure things can get much worse.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 11:44am
                Fionn said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

                I agree completely, Mary.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 15th 2017 @ 12:10pm
                piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

                Well.. if the IPRC ever gets approval, and is paying the women up front, guess where all the top talent will be?

            • Roar Rookie

              December 15th 2017 @ 10:28am
              Paul D said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

              “If the ARU makes even $1 dollar out of this competition”

              I think the issue lies with the fact that it’ll be a long time before merchandise, gate takings or TV deals come anywhere near covering the cost of running it. If they indeed ever do.

              I’m sure they don’t have the expectation that it will be a profitable venture anytime soon. But like anything in time it will need to prove it can stand on its own legs. Professional salaries will be in the future plans no doubt, but go too heavy too soon then it’s likely to all fall over before it has a chance to gain it’s own momentum.

              Start amateur and get a foothold, build on that. Slowly introduce professionalism. How long did the men’s game exist before it became professional?

            • Roar Guru

              December 15th 2017 @ 10:52am
              PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

              Mary – The pay of the super rugby and wallabies is fixed by contract, by the revenue sharing deal done with RUPA, RA cannot unilaterally just say they are paying them less.

              In general the salaries at RA are not monstrous but a lot lower than their counterparts in AFL, NRL and Soccer.

              This will be a loss making venture for quite a while.

              I would be surprised if it is televised , they would have to pay a FTA broadcaster to put it on , however it may be bundled and fox might show some on paytv.

              I agree in an ideal world they should be paid. If AFL only paid $5k for the season and the rugby is only 6 weeks then the payment should be less.

              People play sport for free for enjoyment and thus I don’t see it as being disrespectful at all since RA won’t be making any money from it.

            • December 15th 2017 @ 1:58pm
              rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

              Good comments Mary. Amatuer is training and playing locally outside of normal work hours. An organisation that expects its participants to do all that you say whilst sacrificing income shoud pay compensation.
              If AFLW can pay $5k for a similar length season then I see that as a good benchmark to start with.
              The NRC is a developmental comp, so if thise players can be paid, so can the girls. I personally would have tied the Super W in with the NRC to try to minimise costs whilst increasing patronage.

              • Columnist

                December 15th 2017 @ 2:11pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

                The whole thing is bizarre to me, Rebel.

                Buildcorp pulled its sponsorship of the NRC because there was no intention of introducing a women’s comp… now all of a sudden this comes along? What has changed?

              • December 15th 2017 @ 5:59pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

                I think we know the answer to that, the NRL got the jump on them. Still despite the reason it is great that it is now set up, just need to now compensate the girls for what they are expected to give up.

              • December 15th 2017 @ 6:01pm
                rebel said | December 15th 2017 @ 6:01pm | ! Report

                Cookie, can’t say as I haven’t had involvement, but it sure appears that way.

            • December 22nd 2017 @ 6:36am
              Rhys Bosley said | December 22nd 2017 @ 6:36am | ! Report

              “To be honest, PeterK, it’s not my job to look at the financial of Australian Rugby.”

              As a journalist it is your job to cover all aspects of the story, so yes it is your job to inform yourself and your readers about the realities of the situation.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 10:39am
          RedandBlack said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          Just being a bit picky – but try ‘eluded’ because I don’t think you are saying what you think you are saying.

    • December 15th 2017 @ 8:36am
      Woody said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      Great to see women becoming recognised across this code. I cannot believe they won’t be paid. Welcome to the Sharks @Molliegray.

    • Roar Guru

      December 15th 2017 @ 9:04am
      PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      I love this bit

      Tim armed her with a list of ‘must-haves’ for rugby sevens, including the ability to pass left and right at speed and with distance.

      There is no excuse for every single back in oz super rugby to be able to do this and have is a must-have, no excuses.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 15th 2017 @ 12:11pm
        piru said | December 15th 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        Do you think we could get this memo sent to the Wallabies?

        • December 15th 2017 @ 4:22pm
          Dave_S said | December 15th 2017 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

          With some WBs I’d be happy if they could st least get to “… left OR right …”

    • Roar Guru

      December 15th 2017 @ 10:12am
      RobC said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      Thanks Mary! There is little or no coverage on women’s Rugby. Challenges, opportunities, opponents. I struggle to find enough information on Aussie players, coaches, teams.

      ROAR Rugby itself is male dominated, which is not a bad thing. But it would be more fun to have more peep with more info and ideas.

      Look forward to more in-depth info outside the usual topics. Keep them coming.

      • Columnist

        December 15th 2017 @ 2:12pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

        I do my best, RobC! We’ve interviewed plenty of the players on the podcast too!

        • Roar Guru

          December 15th 2017 @ 2:32pm
          RobC said | December 15th 2017 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

          Thanks Mary. Can you share the link? Is it available for non-Apple users?

          • Columnist

            December 15th 2017 @ 3:50pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

            Hi RobC!

            It’s available through Spotify if you search Ladies who League.

            Also, we have a new cricket one available on the ABC Listen app called Ladies who Legspin!

    • Roar Guru

      December 15th 2017 @ 10:54am
      Adam said | December 15th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      Anybody know what the NRC players received in their first season?
      I would really like to see the women get paid, but what is the commercial reality at the moment? Comparing what the NRL or the AFL can pay players is an apples and oranges kind of argument too.

      • Roar Guru

        December 15th 2017 @ 11:01am
        PeterK said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:01am | ! Report

        Still apples and oranges comparing NRC.

        NRC has the sponsorship of Foxtel which provides television coverage on its Fox Sports channels.

        They also had the construction company Buildcorp as the inaugural naming rights sponsor for the NRC competition,with other partners including Intercontinental Hotels, Qantas, and Allianz. ASICS was the official apparel supplier for the first two seasons.

        So sure if there are a number of sponsors lined up , then that is revenue coming in.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 11:40am
          Working Class Rugger said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

          Word is BuildCorp will be backing the Super W as well.

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