Almost 300 women involved in rugby league are participating in leadership workshops as part of the National Rugby League's commitment to supporting women in all levels of the game.
The first workshop in Australia will take place today in Wagga Wagga ahead of the Country v City game – with another five forums to be held in regional NSW and QLD during the year. It follows a women's leadership workshop held in Auckland earlier this year.
About 30 women who hold positions in Country Rugby League as club secretaries, registrars, presidents, coaches and managers of local clubs and associations will take part in the Wagga Wagga workshop.
During the year, forums will also be held in Mudgee, Townsville, Bundaberg and on the Gold Coast.
NRL CEO Dave Smith said the workshops were aimed at giving women involved in the game at the grassroots level the opportunity to gain practical skills to help them thrive in their roles.
"Rugby league relies on the many women, mostly volunteers, who work for their clubs week-in-week-out to keep the game strong and healthy in its communities," Mr Smith said.
"These workshops are aimed at supporting women in the game by developing skills and providing an opportunity to build networks and share experiences with other like-minded people.
"The workshops are part of our broader commitment as a game to developing the skills and pathways for women both on and off the field so that we can keep increasing their involvement and participation.”
The workshops are in partnership with Harvey Norman, which also sponsors the Australian women's team, the Jillaroos, and Women in League Round (Round 10).
"Every woman in our game knows the hundreds of hours it takes to bring the teams and club competitions together. It takes leadership and commitment," Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page said.
"Harvey Norman is thrilled to continue its support of Women in League including today's regional workshop, Women in League Round and proudly the first major partner of the Australian women's rugby league team, the Harvey Norman Jillaroos."
NRL Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Young, Canterbury Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle and Jillaroo Ruan Sims will present at the Wagga workshop.
Country Rugby League CEO Terry Quinn said the response from the Wagga rugby league community had been positive.
"Women are the backbone of the competition in grassroots rugby league, particularly in regional areas such as Wagga," Mr Quinn said.
"There are women involved at all level of Rugby League, both from grassroots to management both on and off the field, and these workshops will be a really powerful way to connect and develop new skills."
For Raelene Castle, who was born in Wagga, it will be her first visit since childhood.
"I am really looking forward to giving something back to the Wagga community, which holds a special place in my heart," Ms Castle said.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for me to share my experiences and, hopefully, provide some insight and inspiration for some participants."
Suzanne Young said NRL had also established a mentoring program to support 17 women in the game take on leading roles in rugby league.
In addition to Ms Young and Ms Castle, some of the game's top female administrators – Chairman Rebecca Frizelle (Titans) and Chairman Marina Go (Wests Tigers) – are mentoring women from clubs, State Leagues, Head Office and the Jillaroos.
"We have women in some of the most influential positions in our game and the mentoring program and workshops are about using their skills and experience to support others," Ms Young said.
"As a game, we want to both attract and develop more women whether that be playing, volunteering or in administration and these programs are an important part of the overall strategy."
The initiatives are part of rugby league's broader Women in League strategy. The Harvey Norman Women in League Round celebrates women who contribute to the game from clubs, participants and fans.
Women make up a big part of the rugby league fan base with 2.1 million women following the game and 71,000 females becoming members of clubs. Women's rugby league is now the fastest growing segment of the sport, with participation growing by 22 per cent last year.
This article first appeared on NRL.com