With interest and support around the NRL’s newest club surging, Dolphins halfback Sean O’Sullivan has seen first-hand the growth of rugby league from a grassroots level across Queensland.
At the start of this month, Queensland Rugby League player registrations were up 14 percent, equating to about 8000 more registered participants compared to the corresponding period in 2022, with the figures nationally worth celebrating as well. The national club rugby league participation rate is up 13 percent on this time last year and just 6.5 percent off passing last year’s national total.
“Junior rugby league played a big role for me; it’s where you first started to play the game of rugby league, it’s where you meet your best friends who I still have to this day,” O’Sullivan, who was a Glenmore Park Brumbies junior, said from the Queensland event announcing the participation rates at Kayo Stadium.
“I think there are important life lessons that you learn as a young kid when you play with mates, it teaches you some great values for later on and it taught myself and my family, some great lessons.
“My mum was the team manager and she ran the canteen on a Saturday and she probably didn't always want to do it, but she did it for me and it’s just that community feel that I don’t think you can get from other sports and it’s something about rugby league, it brings everyone together.”
Speaking from the Queensland event, which was held concurrently with announcements at Sydney’s Kellyville Park and AAMI Park in Melbourne, NRL head of football elite competitions Graham Annesley praised the contributions of all the participants involved at club level across the junior and senior ranks, including the players, parents, match officials and volunteers.
“It's really about just celebrating what rugby league does in the local communities,” Annesley said.
“It’s important that for the thousands of boys and girls that play our game, it’s much more than just playing sport, it’s about the contribution that it makes to our community generally.
“It's from not only the players, it's officials, it's volunteers, parents who all commit their time to this sport.
“Our game is growing; it is continuing to grow and it is a fantastic season.
“In terms of numbers, just to demonstrate how strongly our game is growing and our current strength, we are currently over 170,000 registered participants, that's up 14% from the same time last year.
"And if we focus on Queensland in particular, we have over 60,000 participants, which is up 12 percent on the same time last year.”
As has been the case for a number of seasons now, the rise of female participation was a key factor in the growth of the game across the nation.
“The female participation rates are on the rise,” Annesley said. “They currently sit at 33,000, up 22 percent from the same time last year.
“When I talk about the female game … in Queensland, the participation rate is currently up 21 percent compared to last year; just under 9000 girls have pulled on the boots so far … in what’s a landmark year for the women’s game with the expansion of the NRLW competition.
"That’s a great endorsement of the growth of the women’s game.”
Rugby league in Victoria is also growing and is heading for a record season with more players and more teams than ever before in 2023.
At the announcement at AAMI Park, NRL Victoria General Manager Brent Silva said the increase in both junior and senior numbers this year was great news for the on-going health and development of rugby league in Victoria.
“It’s really pleasing and encouraging to see more and more people are getting out to their local club and signing on as a rugby league player,” Silva said.
For Annesley, the future was looking bright for the game from grassroots to the elite level.
“It’s never been a more exciting time to be part of rugby league and I want to thank everyone who gives up their time, from the parents, volunteers, officials, everyone who contributes to the game at all levels for the fabulous work that they do,” Annesley said.
It’s not too late to sign up for the 2023 season. Find out more at the Play Rugby League website.