Women’s rugby league has had its critics over the years.
Some of the negativity has come from those who have never watched a game, a lot of it based on sexist stereotypes of what a woman should or should not be doing with her leisure time. Some of it was rooted in out-dated and uninformed homophobic attitudes. Neither of those viewpoints deserve the effort of a counter argument.
Some of the criticism was warranted though. At club level, skills sometimes left a lot to be desired and stoppages for injury could add more than a dozen minutes on to a game.
That’s all changing, and changing at a fast rate too.
The abilities of players at elite level are impressive, and it’ll be exciting to watch England’s women take on their counterparts down under this November in the World Cup.
Perhaps more exciting though is the rapid development of the structure of the game at club level.
Women’s rugby league has had great support and encouragement through the community game, with the likes of Thatto Heath, Brighouse Rangers and Wigan St Pat’s just three of those with a women’s set up.
But promotion and marketing of the sport hasn’t been a priority, with resources always tight.
This year though, all that has changed, with the creation of a women’s Super League.
It’s has been operating under the radar this year, with a short playoffs comp between four teams, a soft launch for what’s to come.
However, the first Grand Final, held in Manchester this month, put it firmly in the spotlight, not just because of the great skills and talents of the women playing, but also because of up-front and positive saturation of social media orchestrated by the RFL. Live tweeting, live streaming, and video release of tries as they happened helped the game get as close to viral as it gets.
Bradford were worthy winners, ending the season unbeaten with both Super League trophy and Challenge Cup in hand.
This week we have had the news that both Wigan Warriors and Widnes Vikings are setting up women’s sides too, following on from the revelation in September that Leeds Rhinos were doing the same. It makes next season very highly anticipated.
The women’s game is blessed with some amazing players who have taken the lead and will be fantastic role models going into this new era. Lois Forsell, Jodie Cunningham, Amy Hardcastle, Charlotte Booth and Emma Slowe are just a few who come to mind, and the game has many more who should be as well known and admired as the top names in the men’s Super League. These women and their teammates will be leading the way next season.
But for all these positives pointing the way to a bright future, there are one or two little caveats. It’s vital that this new set up gets the support it needs from HQ week in, week out. That means good marketing and promotion as well as a sound supportive infrastructure which encourages more women to get and stay involved.
Clubs too have to put time and effort into the teams, not just loan them their names and let them get on with it. That means making facilities and expertise available to the women too. Gym, training pitches and coaching intelligence should be shared to ensure a sound and strong backbone for the women’s sides.
But perhaps more importantly, they need to make sure that links with the community clubs are not just maintained but fed and nurtured. It’s through such clubs that many women’s teams have been established and allowed to thrive. And for those whose women’s teams don’t make the Super League, it’s important that they don’t get sidelined but remain an intrinsic part of the new order.
Women’s rugby league has been a hidden treasure – time to let it sparkle on a big stage. Go watch…you won’t be disappointed.