The Harvey Norman Queensland Women's team were the star attractions at a packed Women of League luncheon at Customs House, Brisbane City, on Tuesday, June 19.
The Minister for Sport, Mick de Brenni, and the Minister for Innovation and Tourism Industry Development, Kate Jones, were among the more than 170 guests drawn from commercial supporters of women's rugby league, the NRL, and QRL directors and staff from across the state.
QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher and managing director Robert Moore attended, as did NRL CEO Todd Greenberg from Sydney.
Channel Nine's Melissa Downes hosted the event and led a panel discussion with:
- QRL director Renita Garard, a dual Olympic gold medallist in hockey
- Nine Brisbane managing director Kylie Blucher
- Harvey Norman promotions and sponsorship manager Stephanie Crockford, and
- Former swimmer Tracy Stockwell, a winner of three Olympic gold medals.
Huge audience expected
Ms Crockford spoke about the passion of Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page and executive chairman Gerry Harvey "to make sure women's rugby league is successful".
Ms Blucher said an audience of about 1 million people would watch the first Women's Origin match, being played at North Sydney Oval, NSW, on Friday at 7.40pm. (This year, what was previously the Women's Interstate Challenge has become the Holden Women's State of Origin.)
Ms Garard said the QRL was working hard, including in regional Queensland, to promote and develop the women's game.
Ms Stockwell, originally from the US, said she was puzzled when she first saw rugby league, with scrums especially troubling. "From the South, where I'm from, that looked illegal," she joked, adding she was now a big fan.
Coach, captain open up
Coach Jason Hetherington, captain Karina Brown and senior player Heather Ballinger then took the stage.
Brown said how motivated she was by the impressive luncheon held to highlight the women's Origin team. "My heart's racing, I'm ready to go."
Hetherington made the crowd laugh when he joked to his charges: "Better get your hair done girls, there's going to be a million people watching."
Ballinger said the team couldn't get too swept up in the pre-match excitement and attention "because we are here to do a job".
She said she grew up on a sheep and cattle station 2 1/2 hours south of Longreach in Central Queensland and her home was not connected to the electricity grid. "I used to beg and grovel Mum to leave the generator on so I could watch the Origin mid-week."
Brown remarked how the profile and stature of female players had taken off. She highlighted an interaction with a young fan after training that morning: "A little boy said to me, 'I want to be a Jillaroo too'." The Jillaroos are the national women's team.
Host Downes asked whether the women planned to use the famous "Queenslander" cry and Hetherington said it was mostly reserved for when the men were "under the pump".
"Hopefully we're 40 in front and we don't have to use it," he said.
He said he told the team, which has six debutantes, that the match would race by "in the blink of an eye".
"I really think it's important that they savour and embrace the moment."
Former Australian and Queensland cricket captain Jodie Fields also spoke about the huge strides that women's sport had taken in Australia recently.
She stressed that the Queensland league team were ambassadors for the game and role models, and urged them to continue to promote women's sport and rugby league off the field after Friday night's big match is over.
The King encourages
Downes read a message of support from her Nine colleague and former Queensland and Australian rugby league captain, Wally Lewis, in which he commented on the special relationship an Origin team enjoyed with the Queensland public.
"Win, lose or draw, you are always respected," Lewis wrote.
QRL partnership and events co-ordinator Karlie Curtis organised the luncheon.
Women's Origin: where and when
The Holden Women's State of Origin match will be played at North Sydney Oval on Friday, June 22. Kickoff is at 7.45pm
How to watch
The match can be viewed live on Channel 9, FOX and the NRL app.