There are two standouts from the 2021 season despite COVID-19 again playing havoc with players’ schedules and competitions, according to NSWRL Chief Executive David Trodden.
They are core parts of the business that the NSWRL is judged by in terms of participation rates for the grassroots game and the State of Origin arena and they both delivered exceptional results.
“In terms of participation our overall numbers were greater than they’ve been since 2015, which was a massive effort since we were coming off the back of 2020,” Trodden said.
“And in those details are the fact we had more than 20,000 women playing the game for the first time ever.”
Trodden said a rise in the women’s game was not masking a drop in male participation.
“Not only are we celebrating big figures in the women’s game but male numbers were up for the first time in recent memory as well,” he said.
“So, everything about participation was a massive highlight for us this year especially after 2020, where we experienced the worst difficulties we’ve faced in 100 years.”
The 2020 competition for The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup, Jersey Flegg Cup, Ron Massey Cup and other competitions had to be cancelled after just one round following the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through NSW and forced the state into lockdown.
The Ampol State of Origin series was played at the back end of 2020 and confined to just one month in November before it returned to its normal three-match mid-season series in 2021.
There were other obstacles thrown up in the path of coach Brad Fittler and the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues, including all three games having to be played in Queensland after the NSW Government was forced to put the state into lockdown again following another COVID-19 outbreak.
The teams managed to overcome the hurdles on their way to achieving a memorable 2-1 series win, with a record 50-6 win in Game One at Townsville and another record 26-0 win in Game Two at Suncorp Stadium.
“I don’t think there’s ever been an Origin period where the challenges were as great as those put in front of our team this year,” Trodden said.
“The fact of not having a home game at all and the fact that twice out of three games we had to move our camp location on the day before the day it was due to start.
“But we had a coach who just didn’t allow any distractions at all. You could imagine other coaches who would have thrown up their hands when told they had to go to Townsville and not Melbourne, or the Gold Coast, not Newcastle or Sydney.
“The changes this year would have tested the psyche of any coach, which in turn affects the players. But Brad never let that happen.
“So, winning the series in those circumstances was another massive highlight. And, also the brand of footy they played to win was pretty special.”
Trodden said all NSWRL was equally proud of the way Harvey Norman Sky Blues coach Kylie Hilder and one of her NSW assistants Ruan Sims handled their roles as the first women in charge of the Women’s Origin campaign.
“What you saw there is the start of a new era in the way we deliver the women’s game,” he said.
“We’ve not only got good women playing the game but now we’ve got good women coaching the game as well.”
His wishes for 2022 is firstly to have all the competitions enjoy a full season.
“The challenge with participation is still significant,” he said.
“We want to at least maintain in 20222 what we achieved in 2021.”