In 2018, Isabelle Kelly and Kezie Apps co-captained the NSW Blues in the first ever women’s State of Origin match held at North Sydney Oval. Five years later, the pair reflects on the game with fondness. Kelly states that it is her favourite Origin game, as it was the first big event for women’s rugby league, while Apps notes that it was a special year. The entire experience, including the pre-game fire and the loud crowd, was a highlight for the players.
Despite Kelly scoring the first women’s try in Origin history in the opening 10 minutes of the game, the match remained gridlocked for most of the game. It was only in the final moments that Kelly linked up with Sam Bremner to split the Queensland defence and secure a victory for NSW. Kelly recalls the moment as the highlight of her Origin career, stating that the crowd getting behind them when they were drawing was an unforgettable experience.
Prior to 2018, women’s rugby league had the interstate challenge, which was similar to an Origin game but lacked the promotion and title. Hence, Women’s Origin was born on June 22, 2018. The inaugural match took place at North Sydney Oval in front of 6,824 spectators, with NSW taking the victory.
The following year, the game returned to North Sydney Oval, with attendance jumping to 10,515, indicating an appetite for women’s rugby league in Australia. Despite several pandemic-ridden years that brought crowd numbers down, last year’s Origin series was played between two NRLW seasons, and a record 11,321 people watched NSW defeat the Maroons 20-14 in Canberra. In 2023, NSW will have a home game to kick off the two-match series.
Since the first Women’s Origin, the game has developed and grown. The matches have become longer, the levels of skill have improved, and the women’s game has rapidly expanded. Pay for women’s Origin lifted to $15,000 per game for the first time in 2023, but there is still a paygap with men’s wages at 50%. The series expanded to a controversial two-game format, and Kelly hopes that in the future, women’s Origin will consist of three games and the players will become full-time athletes.
The growth of women’s rugby league has allowed for more opportunities for women to play the sport professionally. There are more pathways for girls to play in the Blues jersey or in the NRLW, and this has been made possible due to the success of Women’s Origin. As Kelly states, creating pathways for future players has always been a goal for those involved in the game. The expansion of the NRLW draw in 2023 is a testament to this success.