Sports

John Quayle regrets lack of action on women’s game


The NRLW is underway, eliciting the usual spectrum of emotions whenever women play traditional male sports, especially the football codes.

Debates about equal pay, or just more pay, dominate discussion. The outright hostility demonstrated by one side, and the lack of perspective on the other, helps nobody.

They are also moot points in many respects because the last time I looked nobody was standing in my lounge-room, pointing a shotgun at me, insisting I watch women’s rugby league. Is someone in yours? Call the police.

The opening round of the NRLW was a mixed bag: incredible skill, brutal physicality, exciting tries scored, thrilling climaxes, and often slow and sloppy play. I drifted in and out of watching, sometimes entertained, sometimes not, much like I do with some NRL matches.

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But whether you or I enjoy the NRLW is irrelevant. Our perceptions doesn’t make it less valid to those who do and, especially, to those who play it.

The NRL is investing in the competition because it has no choice: the gates have flown back in women’s sport with rugby league competing with the AFL, rugby union, football and cricket in the race for the hearts and minds of the kiddies and the credit card details of the mums and dads who buy tickets and merchandise.

Plenty of people, mostly men, blather about the women’s game being a waste of money but the $5 million the NRL spends annually on the elite competition is a drop in the ocean for a code that’s secured $2 billion in broadcast funding over the next five years.

Rugby Australia didn’t quite cash in on the women’s sevens team winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the AFLW has quickly established national dominance like its male equivalent.

The NRL is conscious of this and doesn’t want to be left behind, although it’s taken a prudent, cautious approach to building its competition.

There have been distinct gains since the NRLW’s first season in 2017. It is the game’s fast-growing demographic with participation at all levels growing from 10,000 players to 35,000. There are presently 1500 female coaches and 500 referees.

Eels player Abbie Church has gone part-time in her job as a paramedic to play NRLW.

Eels player Abbie Church has gone part-time in her job as a paramedic to play NRLW.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Meanwhile, on TV, the audience is also growing. The women’s annual State of Origin attracts nearly one million viewers. On Sunday, about 204,000 watched Parramatta’s thrilling victory over Newcastle when Maddie Studdon kicked the winning field goal – up nine per cent on 2020 (the NRLW competition was cancelled last year).

Which brings us to Abbi Church, 23, who came on late in the match for the Eels and represents the type of commitment young women are making to play the sport at an elite level.

She grew up in Werombi, near Camden, supported South Sydney like her dad but longed to play the game. She played touch and OzTag until Group 6 introduced a women’s comp three years ago.

Around the same time, she became a paramedic and over the past two years has been on the frontline in Sydney’s west as COVID-19 ripped through the suburbs. She squeezed in training between exhausting 16-hour shifts.

After the Eels included her in their squad this season, Church decided to work part-time.

“I’ve had to sacrifice a few things to make it work – but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” she said. “I was working four 12-hour shifts a week but recently dropped to part-time – just two shifts – because with my job I can’t just finish and then run to training. I’ve had to sacrifice that but a lot of women in the game have. They come to training from work, or finish training, get a quick sleep then work a night shift.”

Church laughs when I tell her about the medical advice offered to Quayle 30 years ago.

“We’re not biologically the same as men, nobody is saying that,” she said. “But the way the game’s evolved, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be out there, running around, hitting each other.”

Change is a good thing. Some embrace it, others don’t. Sometimes it’s just a matter of turning up.

Bruising: Therese Aiton sports an impressive shiner during the Eels’ clash against Newcastle.

Bruising: Therese Aiton sports an impressive shiner during the Eels’ clash against Newcastle.Credit:NRL Photos

Nick Politis is the most passionate Roosters man that ever lived and there the chairman was in Newcastle on Sunday, showing up in the dressing room after the club’s NRLW team had suffered a heavy defeat to the Broncos.

“All the players’ eyes lit up,” said one official. “They felt like they were part of the club.”

Women have supported and followed rugby league for decades, although the behaviour of some male players in recent years has turned many away from the game.

The advancement of the women’s game can only help heal some of those wounds. Is that a bad thing?

As John Quayle suggests, perhaps rugby league should have done it sooner.

Lawyers at 10 paces

Forget about the children – what about the corporate governance?!

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The ARL Commission has threatened to pull millions of dollars of funding from the NSWRL after Sharks chief executive Dino Mezzatesta was prevented from running for the board because of an apparent conflict of interest.

Chairman George Peponis and long-standing director Nick Politis resigned at last week’s annual general meeting and now ARLC chairman Peter V’landys is investigating the matter.

“At the end of the day, corporate governance is paramount,” V’landys told the Herald earlier this week. “We fund this organisation and this organisation needs to be for the betterment of rugby league in this state, not for any other reason.”

Mezzatesta’s nomination wasn’t accepted after the NSWRL sought legal advice about its own constitution.

That legal advice came from prominent Sydney lawyer Darren Kane. For the purposes of transparency, let us make clear that Kane is a Herald columnist.

A line is being spun that Kane’s legal advice shouldn’t have been accepted because he has been on a retainer for the NSWRL for the past two years.

So, let’s get this straight: the NSWRL board asks the lawyer it has on a retainer for a legal advice, which is precisely what he’s paid to do.

That sounds suspiciously like sound corporate governance to me. So why the threat to blow-up the NSWRL?

Perhaps the reaction would be different if his legal advice was different.

Mezzatesta has taken his own legal advice and complained to V’landys, which is his right.

‘Boring’: Blake Ferguson on his spell in a Japanese jail.

‘Boring’: Blake Ferguson on his spell in a Japanese jail.Credit:Getty

THE QUOTE

“It’s been really lonely and boring.” – Blake Ferguson on spending 29 days in a Japanese jail cell. Sounds like my 40s.

THUMBS UP

On Tuesday, pharmacist Skye Swift put out a call on social media needing a ride from Tweed to Murwillumbah to make sure flooded residents could access essential medication. Mick Fanning turned up on his jet ski. Winning surfing world titles, beating up sharks, helping flood-stricken chemists. Is there anything this man can’t do?

THUMBS DOWN

Sporting bodies around the world have been quick to send Russia to sporting Siberia over President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but they need to be careful about overstepping the mark, not least with Russian athletes brave enough to speak against the war. The selective morality is also breathtaking, given the human rights records of certain countries awarded World Cups and Olympics Games.

It’s a big weekend for … Australia’s all-conquering women’s cricket team as it embarks on its ICC World Cup campaign, taking on England in Hamilton, New Zealand, in its first match at noon on Saturday AEDT.

It’s an even bigger weekend for … Pat Cummins, who will lead Australia not just in the country’s first Test in Pakistan in 24 years but his first after leading the charge to edge out coach Justin Langer. The Cummins Era officially begins in Rawalpindi on Friday.

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