Fox League's Hannah Hollis
Fox League's Hannah Hollis

Hollis: Our Women in League Round's just the beginning

I STILL remember my first taste of rugby league - and as far as childhood memories go, this is a pearler.

I was a kid growing up in Canberra when Raiders stars Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley and Ricky Stuart came to my school to conduct a footy clinic.

I remember running home and asking Mum and Dad who they were, these giants that came to my school, and they explained to me the game of league.

My family spent plenty of time moving around when I was younger and my dad worked for the government, and I'll never forget experiencing league in Papua New Guinea.

We went to watch the Kumuls play against the Prime Minister's XIII and I couldn't believe the scenes.

There were people climbing up trees and onto roof tops just to get a view of the players.

When I was at high school there, conversation turned to State of Origin in February and when the series finally arrived in June, we'd all gather in the school hall to watch the game on a projector - everyone had a opinion on the game. The fuse was lit.

I always dreamed of a career in media - Pop has tapes of me as an 10-year-old doing news reports to my pet guinea pigs, but never did I think a career in sports media or covering rugby league would happen.

Mum and Dad always said, "Work hard so you're ready for your opportunity - everyone gets one but you need to be prepared for it whenever it comes knocking."

 

There are few players more respected than Mal Meninga.
There are few players more respected than Mal Meninga.

 

The opportunity came on the SBS news desk. I was working in the news as a pool reporter. The passion for sport and storytelling never waivered but to be able to do both, and and call it "work", was too good to be true, right?

Sonny Bill Williams came back to league and joined the Roosters in 2013 and I got to cover that story for news.

Towards the end of the season, my news director then picked me to report on the NRL finals series for SBS.

From there I was asked to report on the 2014 FIFA World Cup and in 2015 I hosted the NSW Koori Knockout for NITV, a three-day festival of rugby league where the slick skills rival some of our NRL players. I remember watching a young Latrell Mitchell play for Biripi Sharks thinking, this guy is special.

In 2016 I got the chance to host a brand new rugby league entertainment show for NITV/SBS, called League Nation Live.

And then it happened. I was sitting in a meeting with Fox Sports' head of television, Steve Crawley, when he said he had an idea for an all-female rugby league show in the network's 24/7 rugby league channel, Fox League.

For most it would have been a brave decision to launch a show with an all-female cast, but I remember Steve saying, "It's not a brave decision when you know you've got the women to make it work."

 

Rebecca Wilson was an inspiration.
Rebecca Wilson was an inspiration. CHANNEL NINE

 

After a lot of coffees and a lot of meetings, Yvonne Sampson, Jess Yates, Lara Pitt and I decided on the direction of the show. League Life was born.

Steve made it clear that no one at Fox League, whoever they were, were gifted their job.

The women of Fox League are respected journalists who I've admired from a distance for years. We love the game. No one is trying to be anything they're not. We're authentic.

Women such as Yvonne Sampson and the late Rebecca Wilson led the way for female voices in rugby league. They certainly have for me and if there are young girls reading this who want to join us in the industry one day, then I hope to continue that pathway for you.

 

Lara Pitt, Yvonne Sampson, Jess Yates and Hannah Hollis will host the Dally M Awards. Picture: Toby Zerna
Lara Pitt, Yvonne Sampson, Jess Yates and Hannah Hollis will host the Dally M Awards. Picture: Toby Zerna

 

Look at me, 20-something years after meeting Mal Meninga at my school, the great man, our 13th Immortal, sits to my left on Queenslanders Only almost every week.

The Women in League Round, like the Indigenous Round, is as much about celebration as it is about education.

For so long when we spoke about women in league we spoke about mums manning the canteen and washing jerseys.

Although those roles are vital in keeping grassroots footy alive, we need to celebrate the female players, refs and CEOs - women such as Rebecca Frizelle. You may know her as the woman who single-handedly saved the Gold Coast Titans.

Gold Coast Titans co-owner Rebecca Frizelle. Picture: Glenn Hampson
Gold Coast Titans co-owner Rebecca Frizelle. Picture: Glenn Hampson

We had Marina Go from the Wests Tigers on League Life to talk about about the biggest news this season - Anthony Griffin's sensational sacking by the Penrith Panthers.

The rumours were deafening that Gus Gould was coming after Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary. Marina with a seat at the table, gave us the absolute latest on a story that was rapidly evolving as we went to air.

I can't wait to see the inaugural NRL women's competition kick-off in a few weeks. The quality of the women's game has come such a long way and it's satisfying to see our players get the respect and standing in the game that they deserve.

I've spoken to a number of the players and they can't wait to show you all what they're made of. Keep an eye out for Queensland halfback and now Brisbane Bronco Ali Birgginshaw, who's been lauded as the best rugby league player in the country by a former Maroon in the Fox League office.

There are so many stories to be told and opportunities for women to participate and dominate in the greatest game. This weekend's Women in League Round is just the beginning.

 

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