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A new chapter for women in Rugby League

Emily Simpson

The highly celebrated inauguration of the women’s AFL league in February this year has sparked enthusiasm for a national women’s league in other sporting codes.

Rugby league is one of those codes and whilst a national women’s league may not be seen for a few years yet, there are significant moves being made toward its induction. This kind of action is being seen here in Canberra, with the reinstatement of an Open Women’s Tackle Competition designed to create a pathway for talented league players to a higher level of representation.

This development was seen as necessary, with there previously being limited opportunities for women to transition to a higher level of league in Canberra. Without the Open Tackle Competition, women who turned 18 and were no longer able to play in the junior category of league had the options of playing in the Rugby League Tag competition (a non-contact version of the sport reminiscent of Oz-Tag), moving to a different code, or stopping playing completely.

Whilst the tag competition provides a stimulant to participation and involvement, an additional competition was seen as necessary to supplement it. General Manager of the Canberra Region Rugby League, Mark Vergano, says the competition is an “exciting chapter in the evolution and development of the Canberra Region Rugby League”.

Not only an opportunity for women to continue playing after turning 18, the competition provides a potential pathway into the Raiders, Canberra’s NRL representative contingent. Mark Vergano says that “the Open Tackle Women’s competition is an opportunity for female players to begin their pathway to playing for the Raiders at a representative level”.

Sharleen Coomber, coach of the Canberra Raider’s Women’s, attests to this possibility. “It’s a fantastic opportunity, especially for our younger girls”, Coomber says.

The Open Tackle Competition may be providing new opportunities, but it is not itself an original instalment. Rather, it is a formalised version of a competition from the early 2000s which gradually petered out due to its unofficial format. A similar outcome doesn’t seem foreseeable for the current competition, though, with significant involvement seen since its (albeit recent) inception in April this year. The competition includes seven clubs, and there is serious incentive for women to participate in the competition given that their performance could land them a spot in the Raiders.

“Girls that thought they may not have been good enough to trial for the Raiders, now have the opportunity to have a go without there being any pressure on them”, says Sharleen Coomber.

The competition may also see the return of women from the codes they turned to once opportunities in league were extinguished. A lot of women from other codes, including rugby union and soccer, are gravitating to the newly refreshed face of league in Canberra. Watch this space – and keep an eye on the Canberra Women’s Rugby League Facebook page to stay up to date.


Emily Simpson

Emily is a fourth year Arts/Laws student at the Australian National University. When she’s not studying, which is most of the time, she’s hanging out with friends, drinking coffee, frequenting bakeries in the search for finger buns and vegemite scrolls, or playing sports. Gradually getting closer to the end of her five-year degree, Emily is still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do ‘when she grows up’, with potential career paths in either law or something related to writing. For now, though, she’s enjoying soaking up the Canberra lifestyle! Emily also writes at More about the Author