What does the Women’s State of Origin mean to me, a fan? What does it mean to the thousands of women who proudly support the game week after week? Honestly, it’s nearly impossible to put into words just how much last night meant to me but in honour of those women who took the field I will try my very hardest – with the help of some other brave women.
“As a female player and fan of rugby league, games like Origin being televised are just stepping stones in what is yet to come. It’s an opportunity for young girls to grow up with heroes just like young boys have done for years. Women in league is such a powerful thing and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
“The atmosphere of the standalone game was so different. There were so many girls, and families, and just a real feeling of joy that the game is evolving. Not writing off all of the times the States have played before, just celebrating that this is a next step. And the crowd had their favourites, signs, and masks and customised jerseys; it just gave it this sense of being really personal and meaningful.”
When I first started supporting the NRL at a very impressionable age of sixteen, I had no idea that one day I would be sobbing watching Maddison Studdon raise the Women’s State of Origin shield surrounded by her sisterhood in blue. It never crossed my mind. For years in fact, I aimlessly watched the men and thought that that was as good as it was ever going to get. I had been programmed to believe that only men can hit hard, kick high, pass far and play well and the real scary thing was I was comfortable in that programming. I hadn’t met enough women in league to know otherwise and it wasn’t until I opened my eyes and realised the sport was overflowing with ladies that the game had a future beyond the men. As I grew older, I broke away from what society was telling me and woke up to the reality that anything a man can do a woman can do too just as long as she’s given the chance. Last night, they were given that chance.
“Watching women in league who I have looked up to for a while now make history last night was such a special moment. Hearing the NSW chant going around the ground and seeing how much it meant to everyone was a moment we’ll never forget.”
“The thing about North Sydney Oval too is that it has so much history. It felt right to do something significant and historic there. It makes you think about all the years you’ve watched football, and the beginning of things, and all of a sudden you’re thinking about women who started teams in the 20s and the men who played the first ‘new’ State of Origin in 1980. All these players from the Interstate Challenges through to now are the pioneers of something special.”
Many people had their hesitancies about the game. There was talk about the level of talent within the game, the advertisement that went into promoting, the ticket sales and overall worth of the game. 6,824 fans in attendance at the ground, 689,931 watching at home through Channel 9s broadcast, 60 minutes of high level quality football and thousands of lives changed. The worth is unmeasurable. The hate, unfortunately, is inevitable but last night was a huge step in silencing the critics and proving that women deserve a platform.
“Watching the Women’s Origin game meant so much to me. To see such an important fixture in our men’s competition be extended to our women is a massive step for the NRL. The look of pride on each of their faces as they sung the anthem was beautiful to see. Every hit, every step and every run was massive. Women can play football – and so well!”
“I remember watching footy as a kid with my nanna and I got goosebumps knowing that all of these little kids will grow up watching football with their families and seeing WOMEN play footy. I believe there is room for all types of womanhood and I want women to have a real opportunity to excel in rugby league: to become fully professional and bring their own unique talents and character to the game. I also believe that what the women’s State of Origin can do by showcasing women’s excellence will be more than just adding more opportunities to cheer for the Blues or the Dragons. What if the women in those teams aren’t just shining a spotlight on what women can achieve? Maybe they’re also building a new kind of game where hopefully Indigenous excellence, and Pacific and Polynesian excellence, and pride in sport can be really central. Those are the women who have helped build the game over the last two decades.”
The game ended and the stadium was filled with cheers. Fans of both teams, regardless of the final result, were overwhelmed with pride. The women in jerseys were buggered after the battle they fought but you couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces even if you tried. Social media was absolutely swarmed with praise and accolades for all of those involved. But amongst all of the commotion, everywhere you looked was a young girl filled with motivation. A little girl who watched on in absolute awe as women, just like she will be soon, made history. She now has idols such as Ali Brigginshaw, Isabelle Kelly or Simaima Taufa that she can look up to and thrive to be like. She doesn’t have to turn to male sports figures for inspiration because she has amazing women right front of her now. Suddenly, she too wants to make history and wants a part in Women’s Rugby League.
“I’ve always been a huge supporter of women challenging former sport stereotypes and living out their dreams, just like female rugby league players. I do have to admit though, I haven’t been as interested in their actual game and whenever I saw the Jillaroos on, it wasn’t at the top of my priority list to watch. But now I feel embarrassed to say that after last night! The girls put on an absolute show – it was such a great game to watch! Their talent is absolutely world class and I am just so stoked for them to have proven everyone who doubted them wrong and made supporters like myself want to watch women’s rugby league! Are the tickets on sale for Origin 2019? I want to buy mine now!”
“It’s so valuable for women to have the freedom in any arena to be visibly tough, athletic and determined, to compete and be resilient and be part of a team. As someone who loves rugby league, every step that the women’s game takes makes me feel especially proud.”
No one person made last night happen. Last night was the hard work of every woman who proudly supports the game she loves. All of the ladies in league, however it may be, made last night happen. The women who play the game, work in the game or just support the game – we all made it happen. With every male telling a woman that she could never play as good as men or understand the game as well as men or make a difference in the game like men, there was hundreds of women telling her that she could.
“Last night was about much more than rugby league. It was our game standing up and saying that everyone is welcome. It was a history making night and I was so proud of every woman that took that field and every other person that helped us get here. The best is yet to come.”
I have no idea what will happen in the future. I don’t know whether we will ever see the women fighting in a three day Origin series or whether there ever be a competition that receives the same attention as the men. I don’t know what is going to happen but I do know that there is a future for women’s rugby league. Last night did not happen by accident and it was not a one off. There are far too many women who were moved and inspired by the events that occurred at North Sydney Oval for the game to stop developing. We have had a taste of how good it can be and we’re going to keep fighting for what we believe in. I don’t know what will happen in the future but I do know that history was made last night and it will be spoken about for years to come. History has been made.