Changing face of Rugby League

By Liam Tapper

The face of Rugby League is changing and women are playing a big part of it.

This is according to Jessica Goddard, Head of Community and Events at the Cronulla Sharks who says that the increased role played by women in Rugby League is fantastic to see.

A member of the Women In League mentor program established by the NRL and Origin Group, Goddard acknowledges the role played by women is expanding and she’s excited.

“We obviously have a round to celebrate women in the game but it’s almost getting to that stage now where we don’t need it,” said Goddard.

“As a female, you want to see it get to a stage where that’s just NRL and who we are anyway. It’s ultimately getting that way.”

As part of the mentor program, the NRL pairs mentees with women who have expertise in a particular field in either sport, business or the community.

Goddard has been paired with former Global Head of Compliance of Westpac Camille Blackburn who has over 30 years’ experience in the corporate sector.

Goddard is excited by the chance to work with Blackburn as the program has given her the chance to broaden her own skill set along with having the chance to communicate with a women who has faced similar challenges throughout her career.

“I talk about my own personal career path, where I want to be and what I need to do to get there how I fill in the gaps I might have," said Goddard.

The program features some powerful names in Rugby League such as NRL COO Suzanne Young and Canterbury Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle and Goddard believes that the views and guidance imparted from women such as these are invaluable to her as woman in the infancy of her career.

“There’s great leaders and mentors here but at the time there were no females,” she said.

“It’s great because a woman will always have a different perspective to a male. A male is still a valuable mentor however it’s good to be able to be connected to them (female leaders).”

Having cut her teeth in Local Government Sports Administration as a Sport and Recreation Project Manager, Goddard has since taken her career on a much broader trajectory.

Jess believes her journey has given her a fantastic understanding of the sporting landscape and a broad skill set for the multiple roles she plays at the Sharks.

“It was great grounding because we worked across all grassroots sports from cycling to soccer to rugby league within the community.

“It’s great to be exposed to a lot of different areas within the club. I’m doing game day and events at the moment which is good,” said Goddard.

After her work with both the Sutherland Local Council and the Sharks, Goddard has also gained a great understanding of the role women play within Rugby League in the Shire, however she believes that it goes much further than simply dropping sons and daughters at games on a Saturday morning.

“It’s phenomenal the amount of women involved in League in the Shire. In terms of Junior League, that’s a major part of Women In League and community, however it’s so much broader than that.

“You have awesome women our area like Sam Hammond and Ruan Sims who play for the Jillaroos. You have some brilliant female minds at the club such as Tracie Edmondson (Cronulla Sharks Communications and Corporate Affairs Manager) who have worked in Rugby League for a very long time.

“So it’s crucial to have women in leadership roles in all aspects of the game whether it’s development or if it’s Junior League or here in the Club,” said Goddard.

Goddard believes that the Sharks are moving in the right direction to have more women involved in the game but acknowledges that it is a process which can only happen over time.

“The organisation is moving in the right direction along with the league as a whole. Traditionally rugby league is a very male dominated sport but there’s most certainly a lot of attention and importance given to knowing there needs to be women in executive roles.

“You can see this across all industries that this is becoming more prevalent and this mentoring program is another example of how the NRL and the clubs are supportive of women moving up the ladder and achieving what they want to in their careers,” said Goddard.

For Women In League Round celebrations, the Sharks have partnered with The Beauty Bank, a local charity that provides beauty products to women and men in need.

Along with this, the Sharks are holding their annual Women In League Cocktail Function at Harvey Norman Commercial, Taren Point where there will be food, wine, light entertainment and Sharks NRL players at an event featuring Fox Sports personalities Matt Shirvington and Lara Pitt as hosts.

Goddard said her team were aiming for an attendance of 150 to 180 people to help celebrate the great work done by women in rugby league.

“It’s all about highlighting the awesome role that women play in the game,” said Goddard.

For more information on how you can be a part of the Sharks Women In League celebrations, assist the Beauty Bank in their endeavours or attend the Cocktail Function, email Jessica Ciccia at JCiccia@sharks.com.au.