State of Origin – New beginnings for NSW Blues and for Women’s game

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State of Origin - New beginnings for NSW Blues and for Women's game
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 22: Isabelle Kelly of the Blues scores a try during the Women's State of Origin match between New South Wales and Queensland at North Sydney Oval on June 22, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Two matches were played during the State of Origin annual contest in June. Over the three game series, not only was it the traditional clash of the titans: NSWvQLD, in addition, a women’s game was added, to the benefit of the game as a whole.

It will always be ‘State versus State’ and mate vs mate. That is the ethos of the contest, with a long and proud history that is cherished by league fans in Australia, and across the globe.

However, it can now be seen as a win for gender equality in 2018. As the women’s schedule see’s the best examples from the women’s National Championship. So on June 22, fans witnessed a new era;

  • A women’s State of Origin on the Friday night
  • A men’s State of Origin on the Sunday night
  • Both games played with the same intensity, spirit and determination.

It is a great example of positive change, that was reflected in both the representation of society, but also in the outcome. And in 2018, the tide turned for the ‘all too regular’ underdog.

Blues fan celebrate after game two of the State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at ANZ Stadium on June 24, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

State of Origin – New beginnings for NSW Blues and for Women’s game

New beginnings means several different connotations. From new coaches, of new players having to take up the boots of legends – which is both unenviable, but also a challenge to grasp a hold of – and finally (and possibly most socially responsible) an new incarnation of the contest; a women’s competition.

The underlying popularity will always bring the fans back. Even some Blues fans who had felt unfairly caught up in a period of losing, will recall well the opening game win 22-12 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In front of 87,000 fans, head coach Brad Fittler saw his young group over power the ‘cane toads’.

And on the Sunday night game, that elation continued. The Blues toasted a series win. Only their second in the last decade, and a view on the change in balance, from the Maroons towards an era where the Blues are more competitive than in recent years.

New South Wales dismantle Queensland’s winning Dynasty

Even while the scoreline read 18-14, it was the momentum shift that was in having two fixtures, that is the most significant change. Matches that in June ‘shared the bill’ over one weekend, to promote the State of Origin as more than just three matches.

Now, it is more than the NRL. Not only just a break in the popular NRL season, it was used to promote the women’s game. Similarly, to the Rugby League World Cup, when the women’s final was the curtain raiser for the men’s final.

And that will be mirrored during the NRL Finals series. A four team women’s Premiership competition, will support the growth of the women’s game. So on the day of the NRL Grand Final, as well as the age-grade championship matches, the Holden Women’s Premiership will be played for.

And the evidence from Friday night, when the NSW Blues met the QLD Maroons, was that the rugby league public were as enthusiastic about it, as the women were.

New era for Women’s Rugby League

The same emotion was shown by the women. The elation of winning, the disappointment from the Queensland women, but the twin success of both women’s and men’s sides has proved the new beginnings are similar across the board.

With the applause only now dying down, fans can expect more in 2019. The possibility of a three game series would be a fantastic development. All supporting the growth of the sport, and the recognition by the sport’s organizations.

All positives however, as former player Alex McKinnon stated, “even as the code steps up its efforts to reach out to women, Indigenous people and Pacific Islanders, the NRL still has a long way to go”.

Positive change must be applauded. Especially, when the popularity of the changes are clear. From the NRL efforts in the community, it’s impact through different ethnicity, socio-economic levels, and now gender, will all build towards a better engagement with the primary support system….the fans.

“Main photo credit”
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