Girls from across north Queensland gathered at Townsville last week (Friday, October 21) to take part in the annual Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge.

There were 25 teams in attendance on the day, making for a great day of rugby league action.

“It was fantastic to see and the quality of footy was great!” NRL Queensland Female Participation Coordinator Keeown Rawnsley said.

The Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge has proven to be a great success over several years of competition and continues to grow, with around 300 players involved in the 25 teams, representing more than 20 secondary schools from across North Queensland.

Held at the Townsville District Junior Rugby League grounds; four age groups were covered in 2016 – Under 12, Under 14, Under 16 years and an Open age group.

Some teams travelling to Townsville from as far afield as Mackay, Mt Isa and Cape York.

Daniel Bardon, a teacher at the Tagai School on Thursday Island, brought an Under 16 team to the tournament.

“I have been getting high school girls rugby league started up here this year … (and) before the Cowboys Challenge, we had had two games against NPA college.

“It is not easy to get games up here due to our remoteness. The closest school is more than an hour by boat and then a 20-minute drive.

“I really wanted to give the girls the opportunity to play more games and against a range of different opposition (and) the Cowboys challenge gave that opportunity.

“The games this year are the first for a Tagai girls team and the Challenge day was the first time the high school to send a girls team away.  This was also the first carnival event for a Tagai High school girls team.

“The girls thoroughly enjoyed the day. The competition was of high level and it was very challenging for them having to play in a carnival event where they had to play four games.

“It is a great chance for them to test their skills and competitiveness against a variety of teams and players. They do not get the chance very often and it was one that all of the girls relished.”

NRL Development (North Queensland) were pleased with the turnout for the event.

“The response to this year's Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge demonstrates the real interest amongst girls in playing rugby league,” NRL development officer Ben Jeffries said.   

“We structure the event so that we cater for girls who are new to playing rugby league as well as those who are experienced in playing the game.

“It's a fun day of rugby league that sends a genuine message that girls can play any sport.”

The 2016 Challenge welcomed Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) as a supporter of the event, using the opportunity to build awareness of breast cancer in the region with information on the disease and services available to sufferers. 

BCNA is the peak national organisation for Australians affected by breast cancer, and consists of a network of more than 110,000 members and 300 member groups.

“BCNA is very excited about supporting the Cowboys Schoolgirl Challenge and increasing awareness of breast cancer in the North Queensland community,” BCNA state development manager Margaret Jolly said.

"This partnership will not only increase awareness of breast cancer in the community but raise vital funds so that BCNA can continue to support Australians affected by breast cancer.

“I’d also like to encourage all Queensland sporting clubs to turn their club pink for a day by holding a Pink Sports Day in support of Australians affected by breast cancer.”

COWBOYS SCHOOLGIRL CHALLENGE 2016 RESULTS:

12 years: Rasmussen def Kelso
14 years: Tully SHS def Mirani SHS
16 years: Good Counsel/Innisfail def Mareeba
Opens: Kirwan SHS def Mareeba SHS

See a gallery of this event on the North Queensland Cowboys website and at the PlayNRL North Queensland Facebook page.

*Much of this story first appeared on the North Queensland Cowboys website