The challenges of a three-game women’s Origin series

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    The women’s State of Origin at North Sydney Oval last Friday night was a roaring success.

    While the New South Wales Blues were victors on the night, defeating the Queensland Maroons by 16-10, it felt like this game was about a lot more than the result.

    Almost 7000 flocked to North Sydney Oval to watch women’s rugby league. The adults that attended this game paid at least $10 for their ticket. While the attendance at the ground was impressive, it was also backed up by the television numbers.

    The average national audience across Nine and Fox League was 689,931 with a peak of 1.010 million. Former Australian Jillaroos like Jo Barrett and Ruan Sims were actively involved in commentary. After the game, fans in attendance swarmed the field to kick their footies around and mob the players with kids (and maybe some adults too) begging for photos and autographs.

    Blues fullback Sammy Bremner commented after the game that she found it hard to hear her teammates barking instructions at her, because the crowd was so vocal. That was something she hadn’t experienced before.

    Friday night felt like a moment in time in the game. Even more reassuring is that following the game there has been plenty of discussion about how good the quality of the game was and plenty of fans have been left wanting more.

    This is wonderful and bodes positively for the new Women’s National Rugby League Premiership at the end of the year.

    But amidst calls for more, we need to make sure that we are building a sustainable product and understand where the women’s game is.

    One of the first cries after the game concluded was ‘why don’t we have a three-game series?’

    A three-game series is certainly what the women’s game is working towards, but there are a couple of factors which mean it may take a little while to get there.

    Should women’s Origin be a standalone event? (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    The first is talent and player welfare. On Friday night there were at least four injuries including a season-ending one to Corban McGregor to the Blues and also one to Kody House from the Maroons.

    The standard of play was very good on Friday night, but were we to introduce a three-game series, we must query whether we would have the talent to field two quality teams. This is particularly the case with the almost inevitable injuries players suffer because they are not professional and do not have access to the same support when it comes to fitness, strength and conditioning and training that the men do.

    Additionally and this is even more importantly, it’s critical to remember that when a player like Boyd Cordner goes into NSW Blues camp, he is taking time out from his full time professional rugby league career.

    Boyd continues to be paid by the Roosters while he is playing for the Blues and in fact, receives a significant match payment for featuring in the Origin contest.

    Other than the Roosters finals chances and a change of scenery, very little is impacted by his selection into the Blues.

    Boyd Cordner NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    Boyd Cordner (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Compare this with Blues women’s captain, Maddie Studdon. It was reported last week that Maddie lost her job because her workplace asked her to choose between work and footy.

    This is not quite true. The more accurate story is that because of the increased time that footy was taking, Maddie made a decision to choose football over her job. This is a decision that plenty of female athletes before her have had to make. And a very difficult one.

    When the women go into State of Origin camp, many of them have to use their annual leave to take time away from work. Given plenty of the women playing on Friday were also Jillaroos, think about how hard this would be after potentially taking time off for the World Cup.

    This difficulty means that plenty of players have difficulty holding down full time jobs. Ali Brigginshaw has alluded to this in the past which is why she works as a labourer and in a contractor capacity.

    If we want more from the women’s game, these are issues that need to be addressed and we need to make sure that the players can financially support themselves in camp. Additionally, we need to know that the players will be able to financially support themselves if they sustain an injury during Origin.

    For some of these players, an injury would mean that they would not be able to work and would lose their main source of income. That’s not sustainable.

    This is not a criticism of the approach the NRL has taken, but rather some of the challenges that need to be tackled before the women’s game can grow.

    And as for questions about whether a double-header with the men’s game on Sunday would have been better, perhaps ask the 400 people that turned out to ANZ Stadium early to watch the Residents Game before the men’s.

    For those of you who disagree with the approach the NRL is taking in relation to the women’s game, it’s also worth mentioning that throughout the process of growing the women’s game, the NRL has been very focused on making sure they communicate with the people that matter the most – the players.

    At almost every step along the way the players have been consulted about how they want to do things – whether they want double-headers, whether they want longer series and how many teams to have in the competition. The NRL is listening to their feedback which is almost all centred around having a sustainable and good-quality product.

    The challenge for all of us now is to continue this momentum as we edge closer and closer to the launch of the women’s Premiership in September.

    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 (19)

    • Roar Guru

      June 29th 2018 @ 8:09am
      Wayne said | June 29th 2018 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      The Women’s Origin should NOT be a Curtain Raiser to the Mens. If that conversation is happening, make the Men’s game the curtain raiser to the Women’s (Sunday Afternoon for Mens, Sunday night for Women).

      • June 29th 2018 @ 9:07am
        Ben said | June 29th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Silly suggestion. The idea of a certain raiser is a build up to the main event.

        Put simply, the men are bigger, stronger and faster. This is why they get more viewers and spectators.

        Can you imagine how demoralizing it would be for the female player watching thousands of spectators – that have already been there for hours – walking out while they’re trying their hardest.

        • Roar Guru

          July 2nd 2018 @ 1:44pm
          Wayne said | July 2nd 2018 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

          Versus an empty stadium in front of 400 people?

    • Roar Guru

      June 29th 2018 @ 8:45am
      BA Sports said | June 29th 2018 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      It was a great event and great to watch. Apart form the practical reasons around player welfare and external commitments, I think it would be foolish to push it out to three games. As you point out there is a sharpish drop off in the talent pool as anyone who has been out and seen the ladies play in curtain raisers would be aware And it is understandable given they are not full time professional athletes.

      I think the next step – in the next two or three years would be to push it to two games (a game in each state), if the financial and logistical support is there for the players. But for right now, let it grow organically.

      Side note; It was also fun to watch the commentators struggling around some of their words when describing players. They are used to being able to say – “he is a big boy”, or “he has got some real mongrel in him”, but they were a little bit wary of using similar adjectives to describe the women.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 29th 2018 @ 10:13am
      parkhacker said | June 29th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

      Removed for violating The Roar’s comment policy.

      • Columnist

        June 29th 2018 @ 10:28am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 29th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        This is a gee up right?

        • June 29th 2018 @ 11:23am
          E-Meter said | June 29th 2018 @ 11:23am | ! Report

          Can I have the G-rated version of what was said? I always miss the controversy.

        • June 29th 2018 @ 12:14pm
          Cathar Treize said | June 29th 2018 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

          Can’t please everyone hey!

        • June 29th 2018 @ 7:27pm
          athur lloyd said | June 29th 2018 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

          Trouble is you cannot handle the truth everybody to the the choppers and out of here.

    • June 29th 2018 @ 11:15am
      Justine said | June 29th 2018 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      I think the woman’s game , for now, should stay at one. North Sydney Oval was perfect this year and should be played there every second year (assuming the next game is in QLD). Using the smaller , suburban grounds is the way to go.

      • June 30th 2018 @ 8:06am
        Ben said | June 30th 2018 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        Absolutely correct. Can you imagine what 7000 spectators would look like in a stadium like Suncorp, and the money the NRL would lose on overheads.

    • June 29th 2018 @ 12:27pm
      Soda said | June 29th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      Why don’t the women play 40 minute halves? Is it some archaic thinking that says women are too fragile to play for a full 80 minutes? I would address that before pushing state of origin to 3 games.

      • Roar Guru

        June 29th 2018 @ 1:17pm
        Scott Pryde said | June 29th 2018 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        I couldn’t understand it either. If the under 18 men are playing 35 minute halves, surely the women could play at least that and if not the full 40?

        Mary, you’re more familiar with the women’s premiership than I am, but I’m convinced the Test match last year and world cup games were 80 minutes in duration right?

      • Columnist

        June 29th 2018 @ 2:06pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 29th 2018 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

        Hiii! Scott you are right in the past the women have played 40 minute halves – the reason it was different this time I think is because the women have a bigger load this year, especially with the women’s premiership coming up. It was couched as a player welfare/injury management tool.

        • June 30th 2018 @ 10:52am
          Ben said | June 30th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

          Mary, are you suggesting that the female anatomy is incapable of holding up to the rigours of being a full-time professional rugby league player?

      • June 30th 2018 @ 8:04am
        Ben said | June 30th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        Human anatomy, that’s the issue with women playing 40 minute halves. Not just to do with injuries either. Think of endurance and so on in a higly physical sport like rugby league. The only possible “fix” imo, would be to increase the amount of interchanges.

        Absolutely nothing to do with what you are trying to suggest.

    • June 29th 2018 @ 1:22pm
      McNaulty said | June 29th 2018 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

      Interesting.
      I would make it a 2 game series from next year. One here, one up there. I know that means there will be drawn series but hopefully we can cope with that.
      One of the best things about the game was that there were errors and so some open play. It did not look clinical the way the NRL is. Also all the players looked fairly evenly matched. This makes me think the depth will not be as big a problem as is made out.

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