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Ladies First! Women of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup

In what’s shaping up to be a year of many ground-breaking “firsts” for women’s Rugby League, 2017 may go down as arguably the most significant 12 months in the game’s existence.

To kick things off, this is the first time ever the Women’s Rugby League World Cup will be held as a standalone event. Previously, it shared the spotlight with others as part of the Festival of World Cups.

Secondly, in a first for the tournament, the Seven Network will take the sport to the masses, broadcasting all 12 women’s matches on live and free-to-air television.

Finally, 2017 will be the first time in the code’s history both the men’s and women’s Rugby League World Cup finals will be played on the same day, at the same venue. The women’s match is scheduled as part of an exciting, action-packed double-header together with the men’s final at the iconic Suncorp Stadium on Saturday 2nd December.

This will be the culmination of a high-stakes competition taking place between 16th and 26th November, 2017. The six competing nations are: Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, England, Canada and the Cook Islands.

Southern Cross Group Stadium — in the beachside Sydney suburb of Cronulla and home to reigning NRL premiers, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks — will host the nine pool games as well as the semi-finals.  The qualifying rounds are to be played as triple-headers. This is set to create a real carnival atmosphere, giving footy fans the opportunity to see three quality matches in one day and the competing sides the chance to play in front of a packed arena.

The inclusion and integration of the Women’s Rugby League World Cup is an unprecedented move in the game’s narrative. It reflects the continuing growth in Australia and around the world. It’s fair to say, Rugby League played by females is in the healthiest position it’s ever been.

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Jillaroos stars Sam Bremner (far left) and Ruan Sims (far right) are all smiles with Rugby League World Cup CEO Andrew Hill (right) and Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page (left).
Photography by Narelle Spangher.

As Australia’s strongest corporate supporter of women’s Rugby League, Harvey Norman has made a long-standing investment in the game from the grassroots through to the elite level. The push has been spearheaded by company Chief Executive Officer Katie Page, who made history in 2004 by becoming the first female board member of the National Rugby League, then established the trailblazing Women In League program in 2007.

“Harvey Norman has sponsored women in league for eleven years,” Page said. “Rugby League is in our DNA. The women’s initiative is in our DNA. In general, women’s sports have accelerated in the past 12 months with companies like ours investing a lot more.”

As such, Harvey Norman has thrown its significant support behind the Australian women’s team, in addition to the sport as a whole, as the Official Major Partner of the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup. It’s a significant shot in the arm for the girls in the game.

“Harvey Norman, under the stewardship of Katie Page, have been great advocates for women in sport and leadership, both at a grassroots and domestic level, and it’s fantastic to see them extend this support to the international stage,” said Rugby League World Cup CEO, Andrew Hill. “The sponsorship allows us to profile our athletes on a global stage with a broader audience watching them.”

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Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page (right) works tirelessly to highlight the importance of women’s roles within Rugby League as players, officials, administrators and sponsors.
Photography by Narelle Spangher.

Leading the way among the playing group is inspirational skipper of the Jillaroos and NSW sides, and the first female player to sign a playing contract with an NRL club (Sharks), Ruan Sims. She boasts a playing pedigree like few others, hailing from a footy family where younger brothers Ashton, Tariq and Korbin have all played at NRL level.  Talk about living a league life!

Sims believes this momentum will eventually lead to the establishment of a fulltime, nationwide women’s league to showcase the playing prowess of these incredible female athletes.

“I’d love to be around for the first professional women’s NRL competition that rolls around,” she said. “If it’s within the next couple of years, I’ll definitely be there. If it’s three years, I’ll push it – I’ll make sure I get there.”

While it isn’t certain just yet when the first women’s national competition will kick off, big steps are being taken in that direction. Preparation is underway with pathway programs established to grow the player base; an elite girls’ Under-18s competition has been formed, to be joined by Under-16s in 2018.

As a proud sponsor, Harvey Norman supports these ladies of League as well as those that make their training and development possible, up through the ranks to the highest level of competition.

As Katie Page said: “Every young girl and woman with a passion for playing Rugby League will be inspired to excel when they see firsthand how far they can go if they have the talent and the determination.”