What you need to know about the Women’s State of Origin
By Jo Barrett
Mate against Mate – State against State. We’re all familiar with the slogans, the media, the build and up and controversies that State of Origin brings to the world of Rugby League. What is less well known is how the scene plays out in the women’s game. As the hype of the men’s Origin dominates headlines there’s plenty you should know about the New South Wales and Queensland Women’s teams who are now in camp and counting down until their 17th interstate series clash
State of Origin – well almost. Interstate is the official term but there’s few players who view it as any less emotional or serious than the concept of the men’s origin. The exception here is that a handful of players have worn both the maroon and blue jerseys over the years – simply due to the geography of where they were living at the time and the rules in place. Funding and game infrastructure doesn’t accommodate for players to return to their home state to prepare for this game. Even now players represent the state where they are playing their club competition rather than their “origin”. Retired legends and former Australian Captains of the game such as Natalie Dwyer and Tahnee Norris donned both coloured jerseys throughout their playing careers. Current senior Queensland player Tarah Westera is back in the Maroon after a stint with the New South Wales team when she was living in Sydney.
It’s easy to pick Queensland as the odds on favourites to win. Despite experienced Australian half Ali Briggenshaw and fellow Jillaroo team mate Tallisha Harden out with injury the Maroons still boast a line up of ten Jillaroos including current Australian Captain, veteran of three world cups and current world champion Jillaroo, Steph Hancock. Add to that the legacy of a perfect winning record as the Queensland girls head into their 17th series with no less than 16 series wins behind them, it’s no surprise the girls north of the border have dominated Jillaroos selections for a long time.
With such an obvious dominance you may wonder what the motivation is for the New South Wales team? Talk to any player past or present from Queensland and they will attest to the quality of the New South Wales players and the memories of them scoring early, being in front at half time and on some occasions leading until the dying seconds of the game.
Furthermore the talking point of this series isn’t now, nor has it ever been, just about the Queensland team. The New South Wales team also includes experienced Jillaroos (who were part of the 2013 World Cup winning team) Samantha Hammond, Alexandra Sulusi, Ruan Sims, Rebecca Young and Eliana Walton. Hammond might be returning from injury but given the experience she has had since first wearing the New South Wales jersey she has shown that given a chance she can turn a game around single handedly. Add to that the sheer magic of new comer Mahalia Murphy who recently carved through the rock solid defence of the Kiwi Ferns in her Australian Test debut no less than three times, there’s every chance the New South Wales girls can turn the tide this weekend and head back to Sydney with the win.
The History of the Series…
While in the inner sanctum of women’s rugby league current and former “old girls” relive different series wins and share their memories of teams, road trips, injuries and near misses, records haven’t always been systematically filed away. In an effort to catch up with the overwhelmingly positive direction that women’s rugby league is heading, the powers that be, along with help from former volunteers and retired representative players, are collaborating to set the records straight. Through social media, old photos, VHS tapes and word of mouth every effort is being made to establish the order in which every female player in the history of the game has represented their state. For this to come to fruition will allow another chapter to be formally written for the progression of women in sport in Australia. A simple concept such as players knowing the order in which they played for their state (their ‘cap’) will mirror the men’s administration processes and offer more evidence of recognition and validation of the contribution of women who play and have played Rugby League. In the same way that the player kit for teams has improved, along with the development of coaching staff, the provision of funding to allow players to attend training camps at no cost (up until recently players paid a levy) and surnames being printed on jerseys, there is progress at every turn for women’s rugby league.
Where To From Here…
The women’s test match between the Australian Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns was recently broadcast on Channel Nine. It was broadcast on delay yet was a huge ratings boost, sending a message to all stakeholders about the demand for the women’s game. Here’s hoping the explosion of the women’s game could see the origin concept followed as strictly as the mens. While realistically this is a little way down the track another significant milestone is the coverage of this clash by Fox Sports. These are hugely significant signs that the women’s game is real, is happening and is here to stay.
Jo Barrett is a former Maroons and Australian player and will form part of the commentary team for the Women’s Interstate Challenge.