Women’s rugby league has come a long way in the past five years since the women’s interstate challenge was rebranded under the Origin banner. The product has become strong enough to survive on its own and the game between Queensland and New South Wales was a testament to this. Although Queensland won 18-10, the game was far from a classic, but women’s Origin has become big enough to handle a couple of rough ones.
The crowd of 12,972 was the biggest in women’s Origin history, which is a clear sign of progress and shows that there is a demand for this sport that must be supplied. However, the challenge that women’s rugby league faces is finding the right place among an already crowded rugby league schedule.
Running it alongside the men’s Origin series makes sense from a branding perspective and opens up opportunities for standalone fixtures in prime time, but given the NRLW runs towards the end of the season, it means plenty of players hit Origin cold. This was evident in the game between Queensland and New South Wales, which was far from the elite product we have come to know.
The second-tier competitions in both states have been over for weeks, and both Queensland skipper Ali Brigginshaw and Blues coach Kylie Hilder pointed out that arriving at the highest level of the women’s game weeks after one’s last game is a tall order for any player. Dropping balls and ill-timed passes were the order of the night, and while there was plenty of toughness and spirit, the flashes of brilliance were exceptions rather than the rule.
In such games, the team who can rise above the knife fight in the mud end up taking home the prize. This time, it was the underdog Queenslanders who found a way as New South Wales drowned in a sea of errors. The Maroons slowly inched towards victory as the clever organisation led by halfback Zehara Tamara and lock Ali Brigginshaw punished the Blues on the edges of the ruck where injuries left them vulnerable.
The two-match structure is unwieldy, but it will guarantee a compelling spectacle and after this match, both sides will be far, far better for the run. That’s the next step for women’s rugby league, the next thing on the horizon as the game continues to head towards that future which exists so closely alongside the present.
Overall, the game has come a long way and progress is sustainable. There is real demand for women’s rugby league and the challenge now is finding the right place for it among an already crowded rugby league schedule.