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New Junior Rules also a Boon for Women's Game

Words: Chris Kennedy ‌, National Correspondent , NRL.com

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A revamped junior game – aimed at getting five- and six-year olds more involved at the grassroots level – will have a particular benefit for the women's game at a time when improved women's pathways means female players no longer need to be lost to the game once they turn 12.

Raiders star Blake Austin – whose own son Carter will be one of the many youngsters playing under the new guidelines in 2017 – said anything that helps keep the young fans interested in the game is a positive.

However as someone with plenty of girls in the family, Austin welcomed the changes as something that will help grow the game.

"As someone that's got a lot of girls in the family that love rugby league and are participating as well it's great what they're doing for women's rugby league," Austin told NRL.com.

"My son started playing this year so I got to get along and watch plenty of his footy. Junior footy's definitely something that means a lot to me. It's where all the stars start playing and I really love it.

"[The changes] are something they've done their research on. I think they're trying really hard to make it an inclusive game for everyone and I think that's really important."

Of the women's game in particular, Austin said he is a huge fan.

"Anyone that's a knocker of the women's rugby league has only got to have someone in the family that loves the game and see what it means to them because it's every bit as enjoyable for them," he said.

"I've got sisters and cousins participating and they absolutely love it and they really get in there and have a crack.

"With the changes they're making and making it more inclusive for everyone I think it's only going to be a positive moving forward for the game of rugby league."

Of his own five-year-old son Carter, Austin said he could sometimes only shake his head at the enthusiasm kids of that age have for the sport.

"I sometimes can't wrap my head around a kid that's five years old can be that in love with the game but that's the beautiful thing about sport and about our game and people fall in love with it and they're hooked for life," he said.

It highlighted the need to look after fans in that age group.

"They're not only future players, they're the ones that are going to be the bums on seats in years to come with the teams they support," he said.

"It's really important we focus on these guys' roots and as players at the elite level show our faces as much as we can to the young kids and show them we're just footy lovers like them and just promote the game."

As such, he welcomed the revamped rules for five and six year olds.

"To get the kids involved and make it really inclusive for all, it's not about competitiveness at that level," he said.

"It's about getting out there and enjoying the game for what it is and if the rule changes are going to help that I'd be all for it 100 per cent."

Co-host of Channel Nine's 'The Footy Show', Erin Molan, also welcomed the changes and the particular benefit they could have for young girls.

"I think it's fantastic – anything that makes it easier for kids to play and encourages kids to play rugby league because they are our future," Molan told NRL.com.

"Whether or not they turn into NRL superstars, who knows, it doesn't matter – it's about getting them active, getting them fit, and enjoying a game that we all love and they probably love watching on TV and just letting them have a go themselves."

It is critical, now that there are stronger pathways for female players, to keep them involved at the early stages, Molan added.

"You've got to get them at 6s and 7s and get them in and get them to fall in love with the game," she said.

"The rule changes make it more free flowing, you can score more tries and that's what kids love to see.

"You look at television, that's the exciting part of the game, when someone scores a try and they're running around and screaming and laughing and having fun.

"It's really important to get them early because now we do have pathways for women… this is what we need so that we can one day have a competition for women that will be professional."

To get involved or for more information visit NRL.com/Play

This article first appeared on NRL.com