The NRL has celebrated the important role women play throughout the game with a cocktail function at Rugby League Central attended by many prominent female rugby league identities.
Hosted by Channel 9's Erin Molan, the night included speeches from NRL Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Young, ARL Commissioner Catherine Harris and Harvey Norman Promotions and Sponsorship Manager Stephanie Crockford.
"It's been six months since I joined the National Rugby League as chief operating officer, and that time has given me some wonderful insight into the roles women play across the game. I'm delighted to say it's a very positive report card," Ms Young said.
"The number of women involved in the game is growing. Both at participation level where females are the fastest growing segment of our sport, and also at an administration level.
"Over last 18 months female club registrations have grown by 31 per cent and school participation is up 26 per cent and we need to keep that momentum going.
"There are now over 90 female competitions in Australia with more than 400,000 women paying different formats of the game: touch, tag and tackle."
Female club membership is over 71,000 and there are 1,100 registered female referees, coaches, sports trainers and thousands of volunteers, she added.
Ms Young said while her appointment "raised a few eyebrows" she had been able to get on with her job and work with people inside and outside rugby league to bring people together and enrich their lives through rugby league.
"That said, I want to reach a point where the appointment of a woman to a senior role in our game is not news just because she's a woman or she has kids, but because she's a quality, merit-based appointment and people appreciate the value that diversity of experience and thought can bring.
"Her gender shouldn't matter and that shouldn't be the story."
Young said we need to continue to ensure women feel welcome at games and choose to watch the sport on TV.
The COO lauded Channel Nine for showing the recent Jillaroos v Kiwi Ferns match on free-to-air TV, describing it as "a breakthrough moment", with the broadcast attracting a healthy audience in both Australia and New Zealand.
Jillaroos stars Ruan Sims and Mahalia Murphy and Kangaroos Coach Tim Sheens were among those in attendance, as well as a wide range of prominent female rugby league media including ABC Grandstand's Debbie Spillane and Shannon Byrne, The Australian's Margie McDonald, Big League editor Fiona Bollen, ABC sports reporter Jen Browning and Fox Sports reporter Lara Pitt.
Erin Molan paid tribute to her fellow female journalists who "set the bar higher every single year," to the wonderful female administrators in the game including Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle and all the women at NRL head office, as well as the wives and partners of players, not to mention the women who play the game.
But most importantly the Women in League Round is about the women who are volunteers, fans, members, mums who drive their kids to games, she said.
ARL Commissioner Catherine Harris said it was critical to acknowledge the important roles women played in rugby league because they keep the game going.
She praised "the leadership programs, the mentoring programs, the programs that talk sincerely about careers for women in the NRL – not tokenism, but serious careers for women in the NRL."
Harvey Norman Promotions and Sponsorship Manager Stephanie Crockford reiterated the company's joy at the new relationship as sponsor of the Jillaroos.
She also highlighted the role of Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page, who became the first female director of a governing body of a mainstream sport when she was appointed to the NRL executive board in 2005.
"If you look around the room tonight, nine years on [from the introduction of the Women in League Round] the influence and presence of women extends so much more beyond the grassroots, it's across all spheres of the game," Ms Crockford said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com