Rugby League has a golden opportunity to take its place as the premier sport in the showplace capital of Australia.
These are words of Raiders legend Les McIntyre in 1980 (as quoted in the David Headon’s excellent Absolutely Bleeding Green, 2020 edition, p49) describing the successful bid for admission into the New South Wales Rugby League competition. They are relevant again.
This time the Raiders are making a pitch for admission into the Women’s National Rugby League. You may remember last year when the club launched it’s case with a resounding bang, Don Furner Jr standing alongside rugby league superstar, and current Brisbane Bronco, Millie Boyle. The case made then was clear. The club wants this to happen and we’re willing to get the best of the best to make sure we’re competitive (we wrote about this more here). Boyle would carry the legacy of David Grant in Canberra. The foundation stone.
Well, that pitch got a little stronger recently when the ACT Government announced it would support the Raiders bid for the women’s competition, including a financial commitment to a future team. Chief Minister Andrew Barr also announced that Canberra would host the women’s State of Origin game at Bruce Stadium in June this year.
This political support is crucial part of strengthening Canberra’s bid. According to Headon, in 1980 they made their bid based on the quality of local facilities, strong junior ranks and the presence of Don Furner. In addition, the backing of the Queanbeyan Leagues Club ensured everyone knew the Raiders “would not have to contend with the sort of financial problems bedevilling Sydney clubs” (Headon, 2020, p44). They did so with the support of Labor party luminary Fred Daly, and the newly elected Member for Canberra, Ros Kelly. As Headon reports it, their support was critical in winning over general committee members.
This time around the Raiders are again making a similar pitch. They’ve got the facilities at Raiders HQ. They’ve got an established side in the Tarsha Gale Cup (the main link between juniors and the NSW women’s competition), and NRL “chiefs” are reportedly certain there’s playing depth in the region to support a side. Where Don Furner’s presence guaranteed Canberra competitiveness in 1980, Boyle would do similar. And with regard to money, as Don Furner said, “Finance-wise we will be fine, facilities-wise we will be fine, so we just need to start looking now at recruiting some talent.”
Like 1980, when the political support and endorsement of Daly and Kelly was helpful, we have similar support being demonstrated here. The Government announced supporting funding for a new team. The money isn’t the issue here. As Furner has noted they have they money to cover the costs of an NRLW team. Rather, it’s a statement of intent; a commitment by the government that provides succour to bean counters and decision-makers alike. This is only strengthened by the State of Origin coming to Canberra. The Canberra Times reported sports Minister Yvette Berry has been instrumental in luring the State of Origin to Canberra.
Again history is repeating. In the lead up to the decision in 1980, with the NSWRL general committee voting to hold the 1981 City-Country match in Canberra (Headon, 2020, p42). Again, it’s another statement of commitment to high level professional sport. A chance to show there’s a market for it in Canberra, and that the city has the ability to market, and handle the logistics around a game like this (which, of course Canberra has).
There isn’t a better place in the country for a women’s team. They’re a burgeoning market of progressive sports fans with disposable income wanting to see the best of professional women’s sport. The Raiders have the facilities, the talent and the money to make it happen. Now they also have government support. While it’s not guaranteed yet, there’s a golden opportunity for women’s rugby league in the national capital. Let’s hope the NRL takes it.
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