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More than 130 women this month will take part in the NRL’s inaugural leadership workshop series announced today at the launch of the 2014 Harvey Norman Women in League Round at Sydney Olympic Park.

NRL Chief Operating Officer, Mr Jim Doyle, made the announcement ahead of today’s inaugural Wellbeing and Balance Workshop which marks the start of an ongoing program by the NRL to invest in the fastest growing area of influence in the game.

NRL General Manager of People and Culture, Ms Vanessa Porter, will run the workshops in conjunction with other expert human resources presenters. Ms Porter has held senior executive roles with major international companies including Staging Connections, McDonald's, Vero Insurance, Disney Stores (UK) and the Australian Retailers Association.

The workshops – to be held in Western Sydney (today), Wollongong NSW (May 7), Hunter Valley NSW (May 9) and Sunshine Coast QLD (May 20) – mark a change of direction for the eighth annual Harvey Norman Women in League Round being celebrated officially in Round 10 next week (May 16-19).

“We know what a significant influence women are having on our game so we have deliberately shifted our focus with the Women in League initiative to leadership workshops,” said Mr Doyle.

“This is just the beginning of a program that will be rolled out across the country so that we can provide women and girls from grassroots up with the skills and confidence to take on leadership roles in their local areas or clubs.

“It is important for women and girls to be able to get involved in the game and make them feel proud of their role and their contribution to Rugby League.”

The influence of women in Rugby League is greater than ever. Player registrations increased 66 per cent in the past 12 months (from 4741 in 2013 to 7216 in 2014).

And women’s involvement at all levels continues to grow from grassroots, where 40 per cent of club positions are held by women, to the NRL.

At the same time, the profile of women in Rugby League has also continued to rise, with significant milestones in the past 12 months including: appointments such as Raelene Castle as Bulldogs CEO, Corene Strauss as Men of League CEO, Rebecca Frizelle as Titans Board Chair and Linda Burney as ARL Indigenous Council Chair; the Jillaroos winning the Women’s Rugby League World Cup for the first time, and the women’s match played as a curtain-raiser to the Test on Friday; and Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman becoming the first female referees to be included in the full-time elite match officials squad.

Ms Castle, Ms Strauss, Ms Badger and Ms Sleeman all joined forces today at the launch alongside NRL sibling stars Brett (Dragons) and Josh Morris (Bulldogs), who paid tribute to their mother Karen Chatfield for her unwavering support of them throughout their careers.

Mrs Chatfield, who proudly watched her sons play for the Holden Kangaroos in the Test against the Kiwis on Friday night, will find her loyalties divided this weekend when they play each other in the blockbuster on Mother’s Day at ANZ Stadium (Sunday). The Dragons v Bulldogs clash is a feature game in this weekend’s Telstra Premiership round celebrating and thanking mums and female fans.

And while Brett has received a nomination for the annual Harvey Norman Favourite Son Award, to be announced at the official NRL Women In League lunch next week (May 14), there is no playing “favourites” for their mum.

“I am just so proud of them both,” she said. “Of course I never play favourites … I always hope they have a draw when they play one another, so it was great to be able to cheer for them as team-mates in the Test.

“The main thing is that they enjoy what they do and they give it their best every time … that’s the best thanks they can give me.”

Following the launch, 40 women from NRL Clubs, Junior Rugby League Clubs and NSW Rugby League, and representatives from sponsors Harvey Norman and Accor, attended the inaugural Wellbeing and Balance Workshop at the Pullman Hotel. Attendees included the NRL’s 2011 National Volunteer of the Year, Penny Morgan, who is also a member of the Junior Rugby League Advisory Council; along with women working in a variety of roles within the NRL Clubs such as

Development Officer, Club Career Coach, Membership and Fan Engagement Executive, Community Relations Managers and Program Managers.


“Pop on Purple” Socks for Charity

Rugby League Clubs across the country and in New Zealand have the opportunity to raise money for their club or a chosen charity through the sale of purple Women in League socks this month.

Already 1100 pairs of socks have been sold in less than a week as part of the “Pop on Purple” campaign which will see players wearing purple socks during the Harvey Norman Women in League Round next week.


Favourite Son Award

The Harvey Norman Favourite Son Award acknowledges an NRL player whose attitude and character has an outstanding influence on the game. The recipient is a player whose integrity and reputation makes the game more appealing to women, someone who encourages mothers to involve their families in Rugby League.

Some of the NRL’s most respected stars have been nominated, with the winner to be announced on Wednesday, May 14, at the Women in League Sydney Lunch, the official start to the Harvey Norman Women in League initiative, to be celebrated during Round 10 of the Telstra Premiership (May 16-19).

Our nomination for 2014 is Vice-Captain Mitchell Pearce. [CLICK HERE] to read more about the Favourite Son Award, won by our very own Anthony Minichiello last season.


Workshop Presenter Profiles

Vanessa Porter

Vanessa Porter commenced with the National Rugby League as General Manager - People and Culture on the 24 February 2014. This was another key step towards the finalisation of the game’s new management structure.

Having held senior executive roles with major international companies including Staging Connections, McDonald's, Vero Insurance, Disney Stores (UK) and the Australian Retailers Association, Vanessa brings considerable experience in developing organisations and staff while creating a positive, effective work place environment.

Vanessa has a very strong background in talent development within major organisations and she is someone who is both strategic and hands on when working with executive teams and staff.

Her enthusiasm for helping people as well as achieving measurable performance improvement and business outcomes was a major factor in her winning the role.

She has a strong commercial background having started her career at the grassroots level in retail.


Ellen Beale

Ellen is a passionate HR professional who has worked across a number of interesting and varied industries and organisations – from media to professional services and from FMCG to transport and logistics.

Ellen’s 13 years of experience have seen her gain in-depth knowledge and experience across the full spectrum of the human resources profession – from strategic human resources to industrial relations to recruitment to learning and development to workplace health and safety;

Ellen has a Bachelor of Economics (Social Sciences) majoring in Economics, Human Resources and Industrial Relations from the University of Sydney;

Ellen joined the NRL’s People and Culture team in December of 2012.


Audrey McGibbon

Audrey owns and runs ‘EEK Management Consulting’ – a distinctive human resources consulting firm based in Sydney that works with a portfolio of select clients on a range of solutions to address key leadership, communication and other people-related issues. She has 25 years of consulting, facilitation and executive coaching experience working with people in organisations, helping them to develop their full potential. As a facilitator Audrey is engaging, passionate and high impact; she is a sought after and experienced facilitator with leadership teams and large group forum.

Prior to establishing EEK, Audrey was the Managing Director of SHL Australia, a position affording valuable insights into the demands of team dynamics, accountabilities and pressures.  In her daily consulting and coaching work, she regularly encounters clients dealing with these pressures and often struggling to maintain balance and wellbeing. She is a passionate advocate for authenticity, examining the choices we all make in daily life and being accountable for our own behaviour.

Audrey has two school-aged children and the busy lifestyle that comes with being a working mum.


Ø  Masters in Psychotherapy Theory, University of Sheffield, UK (2011 to present)

Ø  MA (Hons) in Psychology & Commerce, University of Edinburgh, UK (1986-1990)


Caoimhe Richmond (pronounced Kee-tha)

Caoimhe is a leadership development consultant and executive coach with over 18 years’ experience working in Europe and Australia.  She aims to help individuals enhance their performance and reach their potential by enhancing self-awareness and tailoring development to maximise strengths and overcome development needs. She is particularly passionate about supporting clients to achieve their best through enhanced wellbeing. 

Caoimhe commenced her career working in Assessment and Development at the BBC in London in 1998 prior to moving to Sydney in 2001 and working for SHL, a leading consultancy in the field of organisational psychology.  

In 2006, Caoimhe founded her own company, Capability, where her focus has been predominantly on leadership development and wellbeing.  She consults across a number of industries, such as Financial Services, Professional Services, Media and Education, Clients have included Allens, NAB, Qantas, Macquarie Bank, Macquarie University and KPMG. Caoimhe is a mother of three active children who understands  the challenges women face juggling work and family.


Ø  Graduate Diploma in Coaching Psychology, University of Sydney (2012-present)

Ø  Master of Science, Occupational Psychology, Queens University Belfast (1997-1998)

Ø  Bachelor of Arts (hons.) Psychology & Economics, Trinity College Dublin (1992-1996)


Karen Gillespie

Karen has built her success as a consulting organisational psychologist from 25 years of working with organisations to grow their business by enhancing the effectiveness of their people.

Her early career was spent working for a specialist firm in the UK, after which she joined a global consulting firm in Sydney as their Consulting Director. In 2002, Karen established her own business, teaming up with associates as and when needed. She has advised organisations in a wide variety of sectors including banking and finance, government, professional services, manufacturing, not for profit, retail and industrial.  Through this exposure, Karen has developed a strong belief in the importance of achieving a balance between commercial imperatives and individuals’ needs and she strives to achieve this in her consulting and executive coaching.

Karen’s recent interests are in fostering wellbeing in the workplace through coaching and the development of wellness programs and culture. When not in work mode, Karen is running around after two teenagers, contributing where she can to community organisations and juggling all the demands of family life.


Ø  Graduate Diploma in Wellness, RMIT (2010 – 2013)

Ø  MA (Hons) in Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland (1984 - 1988)

Ø  MSc in Occupational Psychology, University of Sheffield (1988-1989)


  • Female registrations in regular competitions have increased significantly – 7216 (as at May 2, 2014) compared with 4741 in 2013 (a 66 per cent increase).

  • The appointment of senior female Directors and Managers within the industry continues to grow annually, with female CEOs at the Bulldogs (Raelene Castle) and Men of League (Corene Strauss).

  • There are six women in NRL club board positions (Broncos, Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Titans and Warriors), including recently appointed Titans Chair Rebecca Frizelle.

  • 39 per cent of Rugby League fans are women.

  • Throughout 1300 grassroots clubs, more than 2500 women hold senior volunteer administration positions in 2014 (83 as Club Presidents).

  • The number of female coaches continues to rise with 265 in 2014 (172 in 2012).

  • In the past 12 months, 1195 women have participated in courses for accreditation in coaching, refereeing and Sport Trainer/ League Safe.

  • The NRL has two full-time Female Participation National Development Officers to grow female player numbers and provide relevant new pathways, programs and initiatives.

  • Elite women’s competitions held annually include Interstate Championships and a Women’s All Stars v Indigenous Women’s All Stars match, which this year was played before the Australia Kangaroos v New Zealand Kiwis Mid-Season Test, the first time ever the women have played a curtain-raiser before a Kangaroos Test.

  • There are 19 countries around the world where women play Rugby League regularly including Australia, England, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Russia.
Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.