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'They'll just pussyfoot around': Walker's On

The first time I was invited to a women's rugby league game, I thought: 'Here, we go. There'll be no aggression. It'll be boring. they'll just pussyfoot around.'

You can insert your own eye-roll emoji there.

Growing up in a house full of boys, I didn't have the appreciation of the capabilities of female athletes that I should have.

I can tell you, it only took one tackle at my first women's game to change my opinion.

The players absolutely belted each other. It was unreal.

And if you think of rugby league in terms of being part of the entertainment industry, it instantly dawned that it could one day be box office gold.

If I recall rightly that would have been around season 2001 or 2002 and my brother Shane was dating one of the Queensland Firebirds, Katie Buchanan. She has since become his wife, Katie Walker.

Shane and I were both on contracts of $150,000-plus at the Brisbane Broncos, while his girlfriend was getting remunerated to the royal sum of $2500 a year.

We knew back then how unfair the discrepancy in pay between male and female sportspeople was, because we saw his partner training her guts out and pouring her heart into what she did.

She was doing as much work as us, if not more.

Then when I heard that the same female rugby league players I had watched earlier were actually paying for the honour to represent their state and nation, I knew it was completely wrong.

As a father of two young girls, I'm pleased to see the tide turning in recent years – especially in my favourite sport of league.

Now, I won't pretend anyone is going to become rich by playing women's rugby league just yet, but at least the recognition factor has escalated rapidly.

Who knows where the situation may be at in another 10 years?

A girl who is eight or nine years old in 2018 may watch her first female rugby league game tonight when the Women's State of Origin is played at North Sydney Oval.

If she becomes attracted to the sport and starts playing now, by the time she hits her late teens, maybe there will be a possible career in it – or if not, at least a competition where the players are nationally respected and revered.

Two years ago I had the chance to present the jerseys to the Queensland women's rugby league team and it was an absolute honour.

Not a bad turnaround for someone who was an unabashed sceptic in his younger years!

Truth be known, I've watched a fair bit of women's footy over the years now and I absolutely love it.

Queensland half Ali Brigginshaw is probably my favourite current player, but I first got into it through watching players like Karyn Murphy and Tracey Thompson in their prime.

I still maintain that Karyn could throw a pass better than a lot of first grade men, and her creativity and play selection were astonishing.

I admit to being a bit star-struck and nervous the first time I was properly introduced to her.
She's an unbelievable person with a definite aura about her.

But just as important as those type of attacking weapons are, like I said above, it was the big collisions that first got me hooked on women's league.

The women's National Championship was held recently just down the road from my house and it was brutal.

If Women's Origin puts on a show anything like that, I can see a lot of people becoming instant converts.

I'll be strapped into my seat tonight, yelling at the Channel Nine broadcast from 7.30pm, cheering for Queensland with everything I've got - just as I do for any other Origin night.

I won't say anything to my daughters or force them to watch, but if they display a passing interest while I tune in, even for 20 minutes, it'll be a little victory.

Multiply that by tens of thousands of little girls around the nation and that's a significant social movement.

It's not just about rugby league. It's about girls and women realising they can do what they want, and that they deserve to be on the same pedestal as the men.

Tonight goes beyond sport.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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