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The 10 Most influential Women in Rugby League

The 10 Most influential Women in Rugby League

We have to admit to some ignorance on our part, when compiling this list.

We were inspired by the Rugby League World Cup, and the fact the Women were starting their tournament this week, alongside the men for the first time ever. Whilst we may have known the names on this list, we knew little about the women’s game itself. That’s a blight on our copy book, and this ignorance led us to research and then write about it. What we discovered, as if there was ever going to be doubt, is that the story of the women who hold some sway over the success of Rugby League is one worth shouting from the rooftops. Not just those on our list and their stories, but ALL the stories from the past and present of the game. Especially the unsung heroes that give and continue to contribute their time, energy, support, money and skill to Rugby League.

The bold and brilliant move to play RLWC games for men and women at the same time elevates the women’s game to a status it has long deserved. Although, you may not know it if you were to look at the RLWC website. Not including pictures of female players from each nation in the fixtures, as they do for the men, just shouldn’t happen and is an opportunity for promotion of the games personalities that is badly, badly missed. Shame.

But we’re here to celebrate what should be celebrated. In this case, the women who help make the game of Rugby League great. As with any list of this nature, whilst it is great to acknowledge the contribution women have made and continue to make, it is created in the hope that one day, a list such as this no longer needs to exist. Naturally, we’ve employed a truly scientific method for this which involved...our opinion.

Here then, in no particular order, are the ‘10 Most Influential Women in Rugby League’ for 2017.

Katie Page - CEO of Harvey Norman and founder of Women in League

Page was the first female on the NRL board, having held her place since way back in 2004, an appointment that made her the first woman to sit on the board of any major sport in Australia.

As CEO of Harvey Norman, she’d probably appear on a list of influencers for most sports in the country. However, in Rugby League you can’t move for a logo of the huge retail chain smacking you square in the face, even as you make a tackle. In fact, if there was a short sponsorship available in the NRL, blink and it would read ‘Harvey Norman’ before you knew it.

For a long time, Page directly managed Harvey Norman ad spend, so it makes sense that she still plays an active role in where promotional dollars go. On top of that, they’ve aggressively in spent money to promote women in sport, including the Harvey Norman Women in League round, an initiative Katie was instrumental in creating in 2007.

Professor Megan Davis - Constitutional Lawyer and ARL Commissioner

If you’re wondering, the Professor part means she’s wicked smart and not because she can drive a car like Alain Prost. Contrary to the opinion of some, Prost was not strictly a Professor. Sorry to break it to you.

Megan Davis, however...sorry, Professor Davis, is a genuine Professor, and a stellar legal mind. Her list of qualifications, accolades and achievements is so voluminous, that it is for fairer scholars, writers and opinion-ators than I to extol her virtues on that front.

With a seat on the board of the ARL Commission, Prof. Davis’ influence upon the game is enormous.

A Constitutional lawyer and advocate for human rights as well as the rights of the first peoples of Australia, whilst we’re certain she’ll be super chuffed by her inclusion on this list, it isn’t the only significant one upon which she’s appeared. This year she was named as one of Australia’s 100 women of influence by the Australian Financial Review, and one of 20 black women who changed Australia by NITV.

Professor Davis is a prolific and eloquent tweeter, to the point of making our social media team display such awe at her wordsmith-ish-ness and brevity that if they ever met her in the flesh, they’d probably collectively pass out.

Debbie Spillane - Sports journalist and host of ABC Grandstand

This list is about influence. As Host of ABC Grandstand, which includes the national broadcaster’s coverage of every NRL round, Debbie Spillane must remain impartial and unbiased whilst deftly navigating the tricky waters that will surround the hottest topics each week. That’s not her influence. That stems from the fact that when we were growing up, she was the only female voice reporting on Sport, let alone League.

She was the first full time female sports journalist hired by the ABC in 1984, just in time to cover the Los Angeles Olympics. 1984. Think about that for a second. (her appointment, not the Olympics. Jon Sieben, Gary Honey, Glynis Nunn and your disappointment in Rob de Castella notwithstanding). A man was on the moon 15 years earlier, but female broadcasters in sport basically didn’t exist in Australia before 1984.

For that reason, everyone who has followed since...from Tracey Holmes to Erin Molan, walks in Debbie’s shadow. From the first moments of her career, when Spillane spoke, her gender became irrelevant. Although this was 1984, so it wasn’t that straightforward. She was just so good, everyone listened and absorbed. She had a superb radio voice, unparalleled knowledge of a variety of sports and from all accounts has offered constant support, assistance and inspiration to generation after generation of female presenters, journalists and broadcasters.

Barbara Davis - Former Newcastle Knights Board member and leader of ‘Aussies for the ARL’

This is the first time we’ve ever written this list. In fact, it’s the first time we’ve written a list at all since Mrs Dressing Shed sent us down the local Woolies and asked us to bring her some baby spinach, quinoa and goats cheese. Now, don’t know about you, but even just reading that made my brain hurt. Super foods apparently. Or so Bill Grainger says. Needless to say we returned with a loaf of Tip-Top, can of Milo and ‘Milk’...or as she said: “Full cream?!” But we digress, or this list will never get finished and you all deserve much better.

Barbara Davis makes this list, as with Debbie Spillane, by virtue of her legacy more so than her current influence. Although still involved in the game at a grassroots level, Barbara was the driving force during the Super League war of ‘Aussies for the ARL’ and her influence in the Hunter region went a long way towards the Knights remaining ARL loyalists. Cue the Hunter Mariners and 1997, with two comps and the result which captured the imagination was the Knights in the ARL Grand Final. When Darren Albert crossed for the match winning try in the dying seconds, not only was it better than Lego, it was the moment that the war effectively ended.

Barbara went on to sit on the Knights board and serve with distinction as well as run several large local businesses and shopping centres, but the sport and many of the current players pay packets may not be the same today were it not for the tireless dedication of Barbara Davis in the late 90’s.

Mary Konstantopoulos - Lawyer and founder of ‘Ladies who…’

Recently, our social media interns here at dressingshed towers had reason to speak with the lady known as Mary K via twitter and she couldn’t have been more humble, helpful and responsive. The lawyer from Sydney is the power and brains behind ‘Ladies who…’, now a sprawling empire across many sports, which began as ‘Ladies who League’ in 2013. Yes. She maintains a ‘proper’ day job whilst covering several sports from multiple, multimedia angles. Yes. In comparison to her you are lazy and sedentary.

The quality of the guests she manages to attract, the depth of the discussions and the breadth of topics covered not only display formidable media nous and her eye for a story, but a deftness and intelligence beyond most who do for a living what she manages in her spare time. Mary K is a one person whirlwind of energy and the game may have many fans just like her, but none who dedicate themselves to the cause of promoting the sport and the role of women in particular purely for the love of it quite like Mary Konstantopoulos.

Raelene Castle - former CEO of Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Whilst officially no longer in her position as Bulldogs CEO having resigned earlier this year, the continuing influence and legacy of Raelene Castle shouldn’t be underestimated. She was the first female to be appointed CEO of an NRL club, and has held that position with the Bulldogs since 2014.

She brought considerable sports admin acumen to the job, having previously been boss of Netball New Zealand, and during her three years at the Dogs forged a formidable network of supporters and alliances across the code. In Raelene’s case, it is the breaking of the glass ceiling and her success in her position as Chief Executive that may remain her greatest long term influence on the game.

Catherine Harris - Chairperson of Harris Farm

As a list of influencers, this was always going to be one top heavy with business people and administrators. Money does rule the game, however at the very least the women present show skill and nous beyond others who run the game.

Much like Katie Page with Harvey Norman, Catherine Harris’ company Harris Farm has been a long time supporter of Rugby League. Catherine is currently a member of the ARL Commission, alongside Professor Davis, and having previously held the position of Trustee of the SCG Trust, Catherine has influence with one of the most important stadium organisations in the game.

Kate McClymont - Senior Reporter, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Whilst we’ve resisted adding more journalists to the list due to the long term influence of Debbie Spillane, Kate McClymont deserves a special mention in terms of influence. For some fans of Rugby League though, her inclusion is tantamount to treason.

McClymont, as reporters go, is fearless. She has never been a dedicated Rugby League or even sports writer, being listed by Fairfax as ‘Senior Reporter’. Talk about understatements. She was responsible for breaking the salary cap scandal involving the Bulldogs in 2002, for which she (deservedly) won a Walkley. That year it was revealed, with one round of the season remaining, that The Dogs had breached the cap by more than $2.1 million over the course of three years. They were fined $500,000 and stripped of all but four of their competition points, finishing last that year on 8 points.

The impact felt from this investigation still resonates. When Melbourne and Parramatta were found out in similar breaches, their transgressions are held up for comparison with the 2002 Bulldogs. The scrutiny of the cap and the role it plays in keeping the game competitive such that no club since Brisbane in 1993 have has gone back to back, is the legacy of Kate McClymont.

Kasey Badger - Referee

With some stiff competition from Belinda Sleeman, we only felt we could choose one on ground official and Kasey got the nod for a couple of reasons. Whilst no female has yet taken full refs duties in a first-grade NRL match, when it does happen, it is highly likely it will be Kasey Badger. Kasey has been a touch judge for a couple of seasons now and was reportedly close to a call-up in 2017, but we’ll have to wait till next year to see if and when it happens. Plus, we picked a referee because...well, who has more influence on the actual games in this entire list than the person with the whistle in their hand?

Tallisha Harden - Australian Jillaroo

Speaking of competition for a spot on this list, how about those that actually put their body on the line?

Jillaroo Tallisha Harden earns her place because we’re 99% certain she has no concept of time. How else to explain how she redefines what is possible for a human to fit into each day?

League? Check. Rugby? Check? Ambassador and Advocate for indigenous youth? Check. Speech Pathologist? Check.

Harden missed out on selection this year in the Wallaroos squad for the Women’s Rugby World Cup, but in her early 20’s has plenty of time to make that right. Where she finds said time...we’ve no idea and would love to find out.

The players have given us so much joy in the World Cup so far, and with the Women kicking off this week, that will only increase. Kezie Apps, Ruan Sims, Simaima Taufa. We considered them all, but in the end we plumped for just one. In concluding our list with the fantastic talents of Tallisha Harden, we sincerely hope that one day, the female players become the true influencers on this list in years to come!

Roll on World Cup and go Jillaroos!

1 comment

  • Cathy Smith: November 15, 2023

    Great Post! Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us.

    Please keep sharing.

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