Women's All Stars a great success
Story courtesy of NSWRL
No other male dominated sport in the history of Australia has dared to offer their female counterparts an opportunity on such a public stage. There may not have been the widespread publicity of the men’s game however the female version of the Preston Campbell-inspired NRL V Indigenous All Stars rugby league match took place on Saturday 12th February. For the first time in the history of Skilled Park a women’s rugby league game entertained the Gold Coast crowd and set the tone for a spectacular afternoon of rugby league.
With halves kept to 20 minutes the pace of the game was expected to be fast and not surprisingly the first points were scored after just three and half minutes when NRL Women’s All Stars centre Lisa Fiola crossed out wide for the first try of the match.
Solid defence from the Indigenous All Stars saw a turn over of the ball as play recommenced and the crowd favourites look certain to cross the tryline in the 6th minute before a forward pass was called that eased the pressure on the NRL All Stars temporarily.
The NRL All Stars took advantage of the scrum feed to break the Indigenous All Stars defensive line and find good position. However the NRL All Stars experience showed as they weathered the storm of their own mistake to defend repeat sets on the Indigenous try line. Given that the NRL side comprised of the majority the Australian Women’s team this was to be expected.
The Indigenous girls didn’t look like a side that had never played together despite that being the case and indeed plenty of their players were making their debut in rugby league. Additionally they were up against an opposition comprised of experienced state and national representatives.
Consequently the next try came from the NRL All Stars taking advantage of a quick play-the-ball to scoot from dummy half and make it 8 points for the All Stars three minutes before half time. Prop forward Stephanie Hancock converted to open up the All Stars lead 10 points to nil.
Seconds before half time, former international and first ever Indigenous Australian Women’s representative Yvonne O’Neill read play beautifully to intercept a risky pass by the NRL All Stars and cross the white line. Captain Tracey Thompson added another 2 points having the Indigenous girls chasing a 4 point deficit at the half time break as the NRL Women led 10-6.
Solid defence in the second half by the NRL Women’s All Stars kept the Indigenous All Stars from scoring despite their dogged determination to break the blue defensive line. Taking advantage of field position with ten minutes remaining five-eight Erin Elliot regathered her own kick to score the third All Stars try and push the lead to 14-6 following a failed conversion attempt. Fullback Tegan Sullivan crossed the line for the final try of the match with seconds to go. Hancock again converted before adding another 2 points courtesy of a penalty kick to take the full time score to 22-6.
In what was arguably the biggest crowd Australia has ever produced for a women’s rugby league match the outcome was nothing short of an impressive game of skill, surprise and sportsmanship. With a load of expectation from a developing female sport weighing heavily on the shoulders of every woman who donned a playing jersey, both teams and their coaching staff should be proud of such an overwhelmingly positive result.
Following limited training opportunities and a week highlighted by A Women in League recognition dinner at the Gold Coast the game was a culmination of an incredible week of recognising women in league and Reconciliation. A gala dinner where both teams were presented with their playing jerseys by League Legends Mal Meninga and Brad Fitler proved a highlight for players as did the warm invitation to the Gold Coast Titans 2011 Season launch.
The physical encounter encapsulated so much of what epitomises the women’s game – passion, team work and determination to make the most of every minute on offer when the opportunity to play rugby league presents itself.