Women help build Burleigh culture
The Burleigh Bears are currently flying high near the top of the Intrust Super Cup ladder and their inspiration may have come from a somewhat unexpected source.
Due to the addition of three new teams – Souths Sunnybank, University of Queensland and Logan City Hawks – the total number of teams who will be participating in this year's South East Queensland Women's competition has reached 15, necessitating a grading process to figure out the exact structure for the leading women’s competition in the state this season.
The defending champions are Burleigh who won their first title since entering the competition four years ago, upsetting the powerhouse Southern Suburbs team in last year’s grand final.
The premiership-winning women were proudly presented at the club’s awards dinner late last year and not only attracted praise for their performances, but impressed people in the crowd to the point where new sponsors came forward wanting to be associated.
Burleigh Bears CEO Damian Driscoll conceded that forming a women’s team four years ago was something of a “leap of faith”, but said they now form an integral part of the club's fabric.
“They are a part of our club's history now and that just goes to show how much the game has changed,” Driscoll said.
“They'd won the competition and that created some profile but it wasn't until the presentation night that we started having sponsors approach us about them.
“All the teams got up on stage and a lot of people were taken by how close-knit they were and their ability. They've got three national players in their team so to have that in your club at our level is unique.
“We had five or six organisations ring up wanting to be involved. We couldn't get them all on their jerseys but they're all now affiliated with the club.”
Rather than the traditional sponsors attracted to rugby league, Burleigh boasts clothing store Sundrenched Australia and Heaven Scent along with an enhanced agreement with the Cup team's major sponsor, Iluvcoffee.
Jillaroo Karina Brown is a key member of the Burleigh Bears Women's team.
Coached by Jillaroos legend Tahnee Norris and with current Australian representative Karina Brown in the squad, Driscoll says that the girls bring something to the club that the men simply cannot match.
“I'd say there would have been a bit of novelty value at first because women’s rugby league was not as popular as it is now,” Driscoll said.
“The profile has obviously risen by the game putting more money into it, but back in those early days it was an unknown about the skill level of all the players.
“We try to tap into the fact that we do have Australian players playing at our club. Karina Brown was in the final of the Dally Ms this year and she's a Burleigh Bears player along with being a Jillaroo which is cool to be able to say to people.
“They are that tight-knit and a really good example to our men or any men’s team about how to win competitions. I've never seen a closer knit team.
“I've had two emails in the last two days with girls moving to here and the game’s really growing and we’re the only club on the Gold Coast at the moment offering that access to senior footy.
“It's definitely brought exposure to the club.”
The Bears will be further involved in the development of the women’s game with the establishment of an academy program for the junior age divisions that will assist in providing clear pathways to the elite level.
Souths have previously been included in Souths Logan promotions, the Toowoomba Fillies have a close association with the Toowoomba Clydesdales and the Sunshine Coast Falcons have invited the Beerwah Women’s team to play curtain raisers before their Intrust Super Cup fixtures.
With cricket, soccer and now AFL raising the profile of their respective women’s competitions, you would imagine that it is only a matter of time before each Intrust Super Cup club has a women’s team of its own and given the experience at Burleigh, that will be a positive for everyone involved.
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.