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The Women in League role models making a difference

We asked you, the fans, to tell us, who plays their part in promoting women's rugby league as part of Harvey Norman Women In League Round and we've been inundated with a range of great responses.

The NRL clubs have also nominated the people who are making a difference in women's rugby league.

Here's a selection the special shout-outs to those making a difference big and small in the rugby league community.

This Harvey Norman Women in League Round the focus is on the teamwork needed from everyone in the game – administration, players and fans alike – to come together and play their part in tackling gender inequality around the country. 

Big or small, we all have a part to play in levelling the playing field.

Women In League role models

Corban Baxter, nominated by Cronulla Sharks: The Captain of the Sharks NSWRL Women’s Premiership team, Corban Baxter (nee McGregor) has represented the Cronulla club with distinction.

Added to her commitment to the Sharks, Corban has also played at the highest levels, including the NRL Telstra Women’s Premiership, while representing the NSW Origin team and the Australian Jillaroos.

Corban is a wonderful role model and ambassador for the women's game, working just as hard off the field in its promotion through her words and her actions. She is a regular spokesperson for encouraging participation and growing the women’s game and over a number of years, as one of only two female coaches, has been an integral member of the Sharks Skills Development Program, an initiative aimed at enhancing the skills and enjoyment in both girls and boys.

Her knowledge, experience and profile has proved invaluable in attracting many young female players to not only the Sharks, but also to the game of rugby league. The mother of Carter, a young junior rugby league player at the Gymea Gorillas, Corban has also been a willing advocate for the sport on many levels and is always willing to be a participant in local school promotions.

Play your part this Harvey Norman Women in League Round

Ashley Fichera, nominated by David O'Brien, Manning, NSW: I would like to nominate Ashley Fichera of the Newcastle Knights who in her roles as membership co-ordinator and game day admin approaches every enquiry, member criticism and public promotion with total positivity and a warm smile. A total asset to the Knights and one of small handful of women who keep the club ticking over behind the scenes. 

 

Dean Widders, nominated by Parramatta Eels: After spending five years at the Parramatta Eels as a player in the early 2000s, Dean Widders has returned to the Eels in 2021, named as the club’s inaugural Telstra Women’s Premiership coach.

Dean has had a great impact on the women’s game over the past decade, having coached the Women’s Indigenous All Stars team on multiple occasions as well the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NSWRL Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership in 2020 and 2021.

Dean was an assistant coach for the Sydney Roosters in the inaugural NRLW season and has also been involved in Australian Jillaroos programs in recent years.

 

Leah Slade, nominated by Joanna Kerr, Cairns, Queensland: Leah Slade is the manager of my team, also managed the first ever Northern Pride U19 girls team this and took on the role of being the women's competition organiser and a very vocal and integral part of getting the Cairns women's comp off the ground after being absent for a decade. Has been involved at our club Ivanhoes for many years and is a legend who deserves a pat on the back!

Ferguson’s five-year vision for NRLW

Caitlan Johnston, nominated by Newcastle Knights: After becoming disengaged from school, Caitlan credits the NRL School to Work program with improving her education and helping her stay focused.

A local junior and proud Awabakal and Gamilaroi woman, Caitlan was the first player to sign with the nib Newcastle Knights NRLW team.

Caitlan began her representative journey as a foundation player in the Knights Tarsha Gale Cup team in 2018. Twelve months later, Caitlan earned selections in the Indigenous All Stars, Prime Minister’s XIII, NSW U18s side. She was also named the 18th player for the Jillaroos.

Caitlan has come full circle in terms of her education and now works at a local primary school as a Learning Support Officer.

 

Hanna Clare, nominated by Manly Warringah Sea Eagles: Hanna is a testament to Women in League and defying the odds in a predominantly male world on the Northern Beaches. Hanna Clare has been assisting in NRL Game Development as a valuable staff member running mini league for the last two years, and taking on a key role in operating Mini Leagues competitions at Manly Sea Eagles Match Days.

Hanna has been a NSW Rugby League Referee with Manly Warringah District Rugby League Referees Association for the last 4 and ½ years, and in the last year overseeing Interchange and as a HIA Official. She obtained National Rugby League - Sports Trainer Certificate in Apr 2019 and continues to push the boundaries in both Touch competitions and League roles for females.

As a Sports & Entertainment Presenter, Hanna works alongside various internationally recognised organisations such as Surf Life Saving and the NRL to promote sports events whilst providing the best viewer experience.

Hanna additionally supports the largest sporting competition in the southern hemisphere, Manly Touch. Hanna's operational & logistical management of large scale events pay dividends to the success of community sport on the Northern Beaches.

 

Ruan Sims, nominated by Peter West, Moscow, Russia: I would like to nominate Ruan Sims as a role model and ambassador for our great game, someone who lives and breathes footy, full of passion, strong, a big hitter, I really value Ruan's knowledge of the game.

She understands the real culture, and as an insider, can navigate the sometimes murky, hidden, secretive depths of the soul of rugby league, delivering up smart insightful view and vision.

Her explanation is informative, interesting and thought-provoking. Ruan's valuable commentary is a real treat to hear. She has her finger on the pulse and can clearly explain what's going on. 

Ruan Sims celebrates the Jillaroos' win over the Kiwi Ferns in 2017.
Ruan Sims celebrates the Jillaroos' win over the Kiwi Ferns in 2017. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Corban Baxter, also nominated by Sydney Roosters: Corban Baxter (née McGregor) will be celebrated by the Sydney Roosters’ for both her on field and off field contributions to the Club for the 2021 NRL Women In League Round.

Captain of the Sydney Roosters’ NRLW team, Corban has shown her qualities as a leader with her club-first mentality. Corban has spent significant time with the Sydney Roosters NRL squad where she has been mentored by Head Coach Trent Robinson and other members of the Football staff with Corban keen to develop her coaching credentials.

Passionate about the game of Rugby League, Corban has also been involved in the NRL Mentoring Program and is also an NRLW Ambassador – continually taking time out of her busy schedule as a wife, mother and in a full-time role in the workforce to positively contribute to the Rugby League community.

 

Stuart McLennan, Canberra, ACT: The game has made great strides in the last few years. Rugby league has been a great supporter and in my opinion a leader in participation and development of the female side of the sport. Of course there is more to be done.

I am coach of the Greek women's national team, coaching them in the first international match against Turkey in 2019. In addition I am part of the coaching team for the Canberra Raiders Under 17s development squad. I get great satisfaction in seeing players develop and most of all enjoy rugby league. I am a big supporter of the NRLW and look forward to the women's World Cup next year. 

 

Alicia-Kate Hawke, nominated by St George Illawarra Dragons: Alicia-Kate Hawke is St George Illawarra's wellbeing and women's programs coordinator. Hawke has also been an assistant coach of the Dragons' NRL Telstra Women's Premiership team since the competition's inception.

Over the course of 2021, she has also added number of coaching roles to her resume as head coach of the Illawarra Steelers' Tarsha Gale side as well as NSW Country under-19s.

As a player, Alicia also represented the Illawarra South Coast Dragons Open women's side in the 2021 Country Champions.

Alicia has proved a great asset to the club in her new role, which is on top of her volunteering at Corrimal Cougars RLFC where she not only plays and coaches but also holds down the role of club secretary.

Alicia is definitely ‘leading change’ both on and off the field.

Who is the GOAT of Women’s rugby league

The New Zealand Warriors' mothers, wives, partners, players, club staff and officials, nominated by the club: It has been an extraordinary couple of years for the Warriors and they couldn’t have done it all without the support of women from all parts players’ lives and integral club personnel. From their earliest contact with the game, they stand out. Always there. The first to arrive and the last to leave.

Their dedication to being part of something great never waivers. The firm belief that the hard work will pay off. That the cold mornings, the bumps and bruises, and the tears are all part of the journey.

They understand the work that goes into preparing to play in one of the world's toughest competitions. And staying in it.

The pathway to success demands they give everything of themselves. Accepting sacrifice for a life less ordinary. And they do so without hesitation. All In.

In Round 22, we celebrate the incredible women of rugby league. From the mothers, wives and partners to the players, club staff and officials; we acknowledge and thank you for playing your part.

 

Mick Daley, nominated by the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: Mick Daley is someone who has devoted his life to Rugby League, having been involved with the game as a player, coach and trainer for over 50 years.

In more recent times, Mick has made a tremendous impact as a coach with the Bulldogs’ Tarsha Gale Cup side.

Having watched with real interest the growth of the women’s game, Mick began working with the Berkeley Eagles Women’s team, before assisting Alysha Janssen at Tarsha Gale level.

Mick, has continually expressed his love of the desire, passion and skill that the girls have shown, and their commitment and will to win.

Having seen the talent coming through, Mick is excited about what lies ahead: “The coaching challenges you to get better. The girls’ desire to compete is infectious. It really makes you want to do your best and help them achieve their goals.”

Every club needs someone with the enthusiasm of Mick Daley and he genuinely cares about the players he coaches: “At Tarsha Gale level you have girls from interstate and overseas. You, therefore, need to make an environment the girls can feel comfortable in as they are often away from their homes and families for several months. I want them to know that as a coach or training staff, we are there for them.”

Get in the game: Jessica Sergis

Jess Sergis, nominated by Trent Smith, Currumbin: Jessica Sergis is an amazing role model for not just the WNRL but for the game as a whole.

My daughter has had the pleasure of meeting Jess on a number of occasions and the two now stay in touch. Jess is always keen to have a chat pre and post game (and a phone call on Neve's birthday). She has inspired Neve to chase her dreams (footy or otherwise) and is an absolute legend of the game.

 

Pauline Poloai, nominated by the Melbourne Storm: Pauline has worked in development and community roles in Victorian rugby league for past 10 years, helping to drive the growth in female participation and leadership throughout this time.

Her achievements include the foundation of community female competitions, delivering female specific education activities for coaches, coordinators and volunteers, establishing junior girl-specific gala days and establishing female junior leadership camps.

Pauline is also a major contributor to female pathway and elite programs, coordinating state programs and as trainer for the Samoan international women’s team and Victorian state men’s and women’s teams.

Pauline was awarded a Scholarship under the Victorian Government’s Change Our Game program in 2021 to advance women in sports industry.

 

Wendy Bennett, nominated by the Raiders: Wendy Bennett works in Canberra Raiders Football Operations and has worked tirelessly for the last 15 seasons across numerous roles for both the CDRL and Raiders.

An avid Raiders fan when growing up, the born-and-bred Canberran initially started her professional journey by running local league competitions and development programs for the Canberra District Rugby League, before being rewarded with a fulltime role at the Raiders in 2011.

From a Football Operations perspective Wendy currently looks after a significant portfolio of tasks that carry significant responsibility, including but not limited to, Player Contracts and Transfers, Team Itineraries and Travel, Medical Coordination and Claims and Policy Compliance.

The women powering the Green Machine

Kiarnie Jennings, Sydney, NSW: I'd like to nominate Karen Stuart - this woman has helped me kick-start my career with South Sydney Rabbitohs this year. This is my first year with the team and Stuey has guided me through it. Stuey has a lot of knowledge about the game as she coached the Jillaroos.

She's very well respected to the club and has gotten the best out of us in the team. She's not only a coach to some of us women but an inspiration and a support person when needed. Stuey takes the time to out of her personal life to check in to see how we are travelling.

She is a wonderful woman and I appreciate everything she has done for me and the team, she's a great mentor. Karen is also a coach who doesn't beat around the bush she'll tell you how it is and that's what you need to improve your performance to be the best you can be, she will help and guide you with extra training before and after our actual sessions.

Stuey doesn't get the recognition she deserves as not only a coach but as a person. We all appreciate and value everything she's done. Stuey is very passionate about her footy and wants to see everyone succeed to the top. Someone like Stuey is a massive asset to the women's game today. 

 

Darren Robb, nominated by the Gold Coast Titans: Titans Game Development Manager, Darren Robb, has led the growth of the women’s game on the Coast from the grassroots level to the professional.

Darren has relentlessly fought to ensure girls from across the Gold Coast and Norther Rivers of NSW have a local pathway to NRLW. Darren has grown the Titans Schools League and in 2021 there 100 teams representing 25 schools in the competition, almost double the amount that entered in 2019. Darren’s work with sporting schools on the Coast has seen schoolbased participation grow.

He is heavily involved with Rugby League Gold Coast and works with local league clubs to ensure they’ve got the knowledge and ability to grow the girls’ game. Alongside our coaching and development staff, Darren has successfully established a Junior Titans System pathway for talented young female athletes, ensuring they can represent the local region which saw the first ever Titans under-19s women’s team represent the area in 2021.

Darren has been the leading voice for the Titans NRLW bid and upon entering the competition, Darren has managed the Titans women’s program. This has included recruitment and talent management as well as all administrative tasks required to ensure a new franchise in the NRLW competition can be successful. Thanks to Darren’s work, a young girl on the Gold Coast can now walk out onto Cbus Super Stadium as a junior Mini League player (which Darren runs) and return years later through the Titans representative pathway teams and now as an NRLW player.

Meet NRLW Knights assistant coach, Jess Skinner

Natasha Fordham, nominated by the Penrith Panthers: Penrith Panthers nominated Natasha Fordham as the club’s role model throughout NRL Women in League Round.

Natasha has been part of the Panthers family for five years and showcases a team-first attitude in her role of Senior Graphic Designer and Marketing Coordinator.

The first to offer support to any department, Natasha is a silent achiever who leads through her actions. She displays a level of commitment and loyalty which is second-to-none and constantly goes above and beyond to ensure a multitude of requests are delivered in a timely and professional manner.

Among Natasha’s long list of success stories is the club’s 2021 jersey range, which includes a nod to the heroes who delivered Penrith the club’s first premiership and an iconic Indigenous Jersey, an artistic tribute to the people, geography, flora and fauna of the Darug Nation. She proves women can make a huge impact at any level of club-land is a role model for staff at the Panthers.

 

Jasmine Mole, Perth, WA: I would like to nominate our girls coach Kailey Thompson. Coach turns up to every training ready to inspire our girls, she's at every game cheering them on. She's at the fields early setting up and last to leave.

She's in the canteen, referring games, holding the flags and yelling support not only for her girls but for ALL players including the opposition. Kailey is a strong role model to our community and she deserves to be recognised for her contribution to NRL. 

Quality over quantity: Boyle's vision for women's Origin, NRLW

Kellie Stout, Bexley, NSW: I've been volunteering in women's footy for a few years now and absolutely love it! The female pathway now for players and coaches is becoming elite and I am so excited to see the future!

 

David Fauonuku, nominated by Wests Tigers: David Fauonuku has been nominated for his continued contribution to the club’s women’s programs. Even though only becoming a recent full-time employee, he has been heavily involved with — and one of the driving forces — for the junior women’s program as Head Coach of the Tarsha Gale squad, and has helped bring through a number of promising young players to the senior women’s squad.

David has also been a mentor to many young women coming through the Wests Tigers program and was instrumental in setting up the ground-breaking women’s Roar Academy this year.

 

Ali Brigginshaw, nominated by the Brisbane Broncos: Ali Brigginshaw is an absolute champion on the field and has done almost all you can do in the sport. Ali is the current Brisbane Broncos NRLW captain as well as a current Queensland and Australia representative player.

Her commitment to the community off the field is what sets her apart as a true leader in the game. Ali recently visited her Junior Rugby League club, the North Ipswich Tigers, to coach some of the game’s future stars and give back to the club which shaped her rugby league career.

 

Rebecca Young, nominated by Terri-lee Van Wyk, Newcastle, NSW: Rebecca Young has been a huge role model in the sport along with her continuous support of women in league in more ways then one. In particular, she pushed for numerous girls to be given the opportunity to play in local club footy after they got denied by the committee, she never gave up and fought for these girls when they were told no.

 

Alisha Parker-Elrez, nominated by South Sydney Rabbitohs: Alisha joined Souths Cares (the South Sydney Rabbitohs affiliated charity) in 2014. She was initially employed as an Aboriginal Employment Manager before being appointed as Souths Cares’ General Manager in 2018.

Alisha is the first female General Manager of Souths Cares and is also the first Aboriginal female member of the South Sydney Rabbitohs' senior executive team. Alisha’s achievements have paved the way and inspired other female and Aboriginal staff members within Souths Cares, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the broader community to pursue their dreams and take on leadership roles.

Alisha ‘lives and breathes’ rugby league and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Alisha previously played rugby league for the Redfern All Blacks and three of her children now play football with the same club (under-5s, under-8s and under-14s). Alisha is the team manager of her daughter’s under-8s team, where she constantly goes above and beyond to ensure the team performs to the best of their ability and has fun whilst playing the great game of rugby league.

How far are we from seeing female coaches in the NRL?

One of Alisha’s favourite quotes is ‘if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life’, which typifies her positive approach to managing a diverse and expanding team within Souths Cares. Alisha has been instrumental in increasing Souths Cares social impact; tripling the size of the charity’s human resources in the past seven years.

Her partner, Yileen Gordon, describes Alisha as a ‘selfless champion for change within the local community, supporting Aboriginal people as a whole. She is resilient, humble and hardworking’.

 

Tammy Quirke, nominated by North Queensland Cowboys: Tammy Quirke is manager of the North Queensland Toyota Gold Stars. She balances the part time role with her career with the Australian Defence Force.

Described as a ‘tick-all-the-boxes' type of person, Tammy chips in as a sports trainer but is at times a mentor, welfare manager and second mother to many players.

She is nominated as a WIL role model for her selfless work ethic, providing stable pathways for female players. Tammy set the standard for the playing group and staff early in her tenure and has created an environment where players want to learn, compete and build lasting relationships as a team. Additionally, Tammy is an integral member of the Western Lions Rugby League Club where she performs administrative and on-field roles for both junior and senior grassroots players. Tammy plays her part by creating and fostering opportunities and pathways for female players.