JaneWed2.30_2003_18 MDIA2003_18 MDIA2003_IssuesTrendFeature_18 MDIA2003Wed2.30 Sport

Women’s rugby league is still on the climb

Article written by Tanisha Stanton

Until Jasmin Allende turned 12 her dad lived what he thought was a father’s dream, watching his eldest daughter stick it to the boys in a weekend rugby league competition before he himself would take the field, then when Jasmin approached teenage hood she was stopped from playing.

Jasmin playing for La Perouse as a young girl.
Photo credit: Danny Allende

“Her brother played, her uncle played and I played. She put on a pair of boots and she played. She was at the football all the time,” Danny Allende said.

Jasmin started playing rugby league when she was five years old and admired the game that has given her and her family so many unforgettable memories.

As a little girl she played for La Perouse in an Eastern Suburbs junior competition up until the age of 12 when she was stopped.

It was far from her decision to stop playing the sport she loved, but the girls weren’t allowed to play rugby league with the boys anymore as there was a perception that the physical contact would impact the development of young girls reproductive system.

Danny Allende with his daughter Jasmin. Photo credit: Tanisha Stanton

This resulted in Jasmin venturing off to play netball, touch football and oz-tag until she was 18 and could play again.

This year history will be made for women’s rugby league as the National Rugby League (NRL) have launched the very first ‘NRL Holden Women’s Premiership’ that will be played across the men’s NRL finals series in September.

Danny Allende, who is coaching the South Sydney Rabbitohs women’s team that his daughter Jasmin is now playing in was filled with excitement when the competition was announced, but that quickly turned to disappointment when he found out the Rabbitohs were not chosen as a club that would take part in what will be a historic milestone for women’s rugby league.

Initially the NRL announced that six teams would take part in the competition but later dropped it back to four. Danny was devastated with the last-minute decision that resulted in the club missing out on a spot in the competition.

The Brisbane Broncos, St George Illawarra Dragons, Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors were among the clubs selected to participate.

“It was originally six clubs but it was decided at the last minute that there wasn’t enough high-level players to cover six teams so they brought it back to four,” Danny said.

“Their (the NRL’s) concerns were a lack of quality numbers. Yet the women have been playing for a long time in their regular competition in club football, it just hasn’t been formalised enough or respected.”

Although the passionate coach does think the NRL are heading in the right direction, he believes the premiership could have been a larger independent competition as there are 110+ female-only rugby league competitions across Australia.

“I think the NRL are trying to do the right thing,” Danny said.

“I think the women should be seen as a stand-alone competition and I believe that we’ve got the numbers and we have the quality.

“I think there just needs to be a really good strategic plan for the next five years and beyond about where they see the women’s game and women in rugby league.”

Jason King (right) with former Bulldogs winger Hazem El Masri. Photo credit: NRL

Jason King who is the General Manager for Elite Pathways at the NRL oversaw the development of the framework for the inaugural competition.

The former Manly Sea Eagle’s front-rower joined the NRL just nine months ago with a vision for positive change in women’s rugby league.

He feels the Elite Pathways team knew this year was the right time to bring in the women’s competition as there has been a 32 percent increase in female participation across all age groups in 2017 and there was promising interest from numerous NRL clubs.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our sport,” King said.

“There is a lot of interest from clubs which is a great indication that we are doing the right thing.

“The women’s game’s been growing year on year at a participation level for quite a number of years now which is a real positive and combined with that the level of football being played by women at the elite level has been unbelievable.”

With plenty of debate around whether or not there should be more teams included in the premiership this year, King said the Elite Pathways team drew upon the analysis and data that was conducted, and due to a lack of pathways for girls and women in previous years the depth of the talent pool was limited.

“The biggest thing for us is to make sure we do this sustainably and there we have to take into account the depth of the talent we have, the number of women playing rugby league at the elite level and the right decision for us for year one of this premiership was four teams based on that analysis and that data,” King said.

“A limited talent pool at the elite level primarily due to there being a fractured pathway for women and women haven’t been able to participate in rugby league beyond the age of 12 up until when they turned 18.

“That’s I guess resulted in where we are today so we need to go back and have a look at that pathway and do a lot of work there to make sure we’re providing those opportunities to women.”

Australian Jillaroos team celebrating after their win over the New Zealand Ferns at GIO Stadium in Canberra. Photo credit: NRL

With more playing opportunity coming up for the women each year their schedules are jam-packed, and with the premiership being implemented King said that was another element of it that they had to take into consideration.

“Another complication is the women don’t only play the premiership, it’s only three games plus a grand final but the women also participate in quite an extensive elite pathway through the year; There is state and local competitions they participate in, there is also quite a heavy representative fixture, they played the Commonwealth Championships this year off the back of the Rugby League World Cup last year, they play the State of Origin series and there will be some test matches for the Jillaroos later in the year,” King said.

“We had to be really mindful of that
of that as well because all the players participating in the premiership will also participate in all those other opportunities.

“We had to be really careful there around player workload, player safety and injury, so that was at the front of the mind when making decisions around how many teams were going to participate in the inaugural year of the premiership.”

The NRL Holden Women’s Premiership will kick off on Friday September 7.