• Johnathan Thurston with his daughter Frankie and her doll. (AAP)
Whether you want to cheer from the sidelines, blow your whistle, get involved in governance or play rugby league, there's a place for you. Guest editor Mary Konstantopoulos gives us her favourite five things about the sport.
By
Mary Konstantopoulos

Source:
Zela
9 Jul 2016 - 8:00 AM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2016 - 8:00 AM

When someone says the words 'rugby league' to you, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the National Rugby League (NRL), which is the premier rugby league competition in the world? Is it an outstanding player like Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Ruan Sims or Anthony Milford? Or is it a club like the Parramatta Eels, South Sydney Rabbitohs or Sydney Roosters?

Whilst the NRL, outstanding players and established clubs are all an important part of the rugby league family, rugby league is about so much more than that.

Tackle, tag and touch like a girl!

In 2015, across Australia there was a 6% increase in participation in the sport.  This means across Australia there are 1.4 million people playing some type of rugby league.

Whatever your size, height, weight or skill level there is a type of rugby league for you.  There are three main versions of the game - one contact version (rugby league tackle) and two non-contact versions of the sport (tag and touch).

So whether you aspire to tackle like a girl like Australian Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims or play touch like a girl like Australian Women's Touch Football Captain Lizzie Campbell, there's a way for you to keep active and play a form of rugby league.

Quick shots from left field: Ruan Sims
Named captain for tonight's Anzac test replacing an injured Steph Hancock, Ruan Sims won't exactly calm her nerves with our tough questions.
 

Women are everywhere!

So you've decided that you don't want to play rugby league but you still want to be involved.  Great!  Rugby league is one of the most compelling stories when it comes to gender diversity in sport at the moment.  You just need to take a look around.

Catherine Harris AO PSM sits on the Australian Rugby League Commission.

Eleni North and Rebekah Horne are both part of the NRL Senior Management Team.

Raelene Castle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Canterbury Bulldogs.

Anita Hagarty (Chairperson at Touch Football Australia), Marina Go (Chairperson at the Wests Tigers) and Rebecca Frizelle (Chairperson at the Gold Coast Titans) are outstanding examples of women on boards.

Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman are both part of the NRL refereeing ranks.

Badger of honour: NRL referee Kasey Badger reflects on choosing the whistle over the ball
Ahead of the Jillaroos test against New Zealand, NRL referee Kasey Badger reflects on what could have been... but would she change it?

Then there are our journalists. This year, Yvonne Sampson made history when she became the first woman to chair State of Origin and on any given week you can tune into the coverage to see women like Erin Molan, Megan Barnard, Jen Browning and Lara Pitt leading the way.

Not to mention all the women and girls that play rugby league, female fans and female volunteers.

All these people are integral members of the rugby league family.

The NRL reaches LOTS of people

The NRL, as a league has tremendous reach.  In 2015, State of Origin Games I, II and III all ranked in the top 5 highest rating television programs in Australia.  294,000 people signed up as members of their respective clubs.  On Grand Final day alone, 9 million fans tuned into content from the NRL's official Facebook account.  Bottom line - the NRL talks to a lot of different people each day.

This means that the NRL has a tremendous capacity to be able to spread important social messages.  This year alone saw the NRL become the first code to have its own float at the Sydney Mardi Gras.  

The Parramatta Eels became the first club in history to unveil a Domestic Violence Action Plan in 2015.  Each game of State of Origin this year has featured an advertisement from the NRL's 'Voice Against Violence' campaign which is an anti-violence program created to educate and create conversations with men in the Rugby League family on domestic violence and the impact it has on our society. And that's just the tip of the iceberg…

As a sport, rugby league is not perfect, but it's encouraging to see the sport recognising the power it has to drive and influence change in the community.

It's incredible to watch

A sport that incorporates massive hits, speed, agility and fantastic ball-handling skills. Don't believe us? Check out this video of the highlights from the Australian Jillaroos v Kiwi Ferns Test Match earlier this year.

Or this Auckland Nines highlights package:

Moments like this

If you missed last year's Grand Final between the Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys, you missed one of the most entertaining games of rugby league in the history of the sport.

What you wouldn’t have missed though was this picture of Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston and his daughter Frankie.  This photo was the most shared NRL image of all time, being retweeted, shared and liked millions of times on social media.

Since Frankie became one of the most adored toddlers in Australia, there have been plenty more touching moments like this captured on social media to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Is it time for a national women’s rugby league… league?
We’ve got the W-League, the WBBL, and the Women’s AFL - now how about a national women’s rugby league comp?