Female participation in rugby league continues to grow at rapid pace and is still the fastest growing area of the game. To help facilitate this growth, the NRL has taken a coordinated approach with schools to provide a strong base for participation.
This year saw the establishment of the Karyn Murphy Cup – a nine-a-side competition which gives all girls across Queensland the opportunity to represent their school and compete to be crowned state champions.
Competition offered across four age groups: 11-12 years (enrolled in Year 5 or 6 only); Year 7 & 8; Year 9 & 10 and Year 11 & 12.
Schools participate in regional weekly competitions and/or Gala Days with the winners progressing to a state final series which will culminate in a Queensland Finals day to be held in Term 3. The grand final will be played on August 23 at Dolphin Oval in Redcliffe.
Emerald State High School coach Terri Weatherly coaches a team that was involved in the tournament and shared her rugby league story with QRL.com.au.
TERRI Weatherly reflects on her path down her rugby league history with pride.
“I was very sporting when I was in primary school, and the boys on the oval all played rugby league, and a few of us girls would join in,” Weatherly said.
“I remember when I was in Year 7 begging our town councillor if she can help us out trying to get a girls rugby league team. From there I had a passion.”
Starting with his first foray into the sport in primary school, Weatherly started coaching 14 years ago, including a stint at coaching girl’s rugby league for the Capricornia state school squad, walking away with four state titles in five years.
Weatherly is now a girl’s coach for Emerald State High School who play in this year’s Karyn Murphy Cup competition and aims to continue to encourage more young women to take rugby league up.
“I’ve just loved it; I think it is a fantastic sport. I did play and have a little go myself, but by the time we’ve had something happen here I felt it was better to leave it up to the younger girls,” Weatherly said.
“Just that whole comradeship being team-mates, the social part of it, just that feeling on the field where you’re all there. Everyone is there for that one reason.
‘That dedication and not letting down your mate beside you. It is just that awesome feeling to be in a camp of ladies and to experience that.”
It’s that experience and leadership by Weatherly and others like her that have seen a great rise in female participation in rugby league, especially in rural Queensland.
“We’ve seen a massive growth in females being keen, and trying rugby league at the moment,” Weatherly said.
“We have five teams in our women’s competition in the Central Highlands. Before, we had … up to four hours of travel to get to a game.
“Now, we have competition based in our own region. We still need to travel, so we may have to travel two hours, but it’s good to have out own comp in our own region now.
“It's been great because the girls now in our region see the women playing in a weekend camp for a whole season and we now have our Under 14s and Under 17s girls seen to play as well.”
“We’ve seen a massive growth in females being keen, and trying rugby league at the moment.”
That kind of interest in the sport is helped by the inclusion and expansion of the Karyn Murphy Cup, a state-wide school girls competition offered across four age groups.
“Karyn Murphy Cup day was a real success with close to 80 girls participating, and from that we had more girls sign up to play club football on weekends,” Weatherly said.
“it’s really pleasing to see the growth, and the girls are loving the game and enjoying it and realising that tackling and a physical game is not necessarily a dangerous game.”
That physical aspect of rugby league was originally a tough sell according to Weatherly, but is getting easier as events like the Karyn Murphy Cup and great local coaching and expelling myths that parents may have.
“It’s good to reassure parents,” she said.
“We have parents that come along on Wednesday afternoons to sit and watch for awhile and come and have a chat to you.
“Once they realise we are doing it in a controlled environment, and they are getting quality coaching from the likes of our game development officer Sally Galloway and other coaches who are qualified I think it eases them.
“Once they see it and realise it’s not so scary and dangerous then they are quite happy to allow their kids to play.”
While it may take some time until the women's rugby reaches the level of the men's game in popularity and participation, Weatherly believes It is only a matter of time before that changes.
“I’m definitely hoping that’s going to be the case so I would love to see that happen,” Weatherly said.
“In areas that we have a greater population like Mackay and Gladstone we have a lot of great coaches putting on regular competitions.
“When you’re in a smaller area like Emerald it becomes more difficult to get those girls regular games all the time. I would love to see the growth where we do have something where girls can play all the time and not necessarily have to travel a long distance for it and save on expenses.”
In the meantime, with the help of her school system, Weatherly continues to encourage the next generation of players to make their mark in women’s football.
“I’d love to see our women get the recognition the have, like the Jillaroos being played on TV, I’d love to see the progression of that happen,” said Weatherly.
“Time will tell, but I believe it’s going to happen.”