MARY KONSTANTOPOULOS | Ladies Who League | Edited extracts
SYDNEY - The countdown officially over, yesterday the 2017 Rugby League World Cup began.
Whilst the Kangaroos and England, who played last night with a hard fought win for Australia, are expected to be two of the strongest teams taking part in the tournament, it has been 45 years since the Paul Barriere Trophy was last claimed by England and England failed to qualify for the last three tournament finals.
The English national team will be looking to change that in 2017.
Whilst there may be plenty of anticipation ahead of the opening clash of the tournament, if you have been following the media you will know that the build-up to this particular Rugby League World Cup has had plenty of interesting storylines.
Here are some of the reasons I've looking forward to this year's tournament and why, for the first time ever, I'll be tuning in.
For the first time in history, the men's and women's World Cups will be contested side by side. This will culminate in a double-header final to be played at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday 2 December.
This Rugby League World Cup is really the grand finale for what has been a ground-breaking year for women in league. And hopefully it will also be remembered as a year that the Jillaroos win the World Cup.
While this World Cup will be significant for Australian women's rugby league we can't forget about the other countries coming over to participate in the tournament.
Mark my words, one of the stories of this year's World Cup will be the Papua New Guinea Orchids.
You may already know that rugby league is Papua New Guinea's national sport. But it's not just their national sport, it is their national obsession.
While women may have been playing rugby league in Papua New Guinea for many years in their local communities, this Rugby League World Cup will be the first time Papua New Guinea will field a women's team.
It is also the first time the women's World Cup will be televised in Papua New Guinea and give people in that country the opportunity to connect women with rugby league in a meaningful way.
Whilst gender-based violence is still a problem in Australia, it is nothing compared to the violence and inequality that occurs in Papua New Guinea.
To see women being strong, physical, confident and participating in what is that country's national obsession will be fundamentally important in changing the gender conversation in Papua New Guinea – and that really is the true power of sport.
Leading into this World Cup, plenty of fans may have predicted that it would be an Australian Kangaroos v New Zealand Kiwis final in the men's.
That was before a number of players decided to represent their country of origin.
Suddenly things got interesting and in particular some of the teams from the Pacific Islands are looking extremely strong.
I can't wait to see Mitch Moses and Tim Mannah run out for Lebanon. Or Herman Ese'ese, Ricky Leutele, Josh Papalii and Young Tonumaipea represent Samoa. The combination of Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumololo for Tonga will be something to behold. And who knew that Nathan Brown had an Italian background?
There will also plenty of familiar faces in the Fijian team including Kane Evans, Jarryd Hayne, Eloni Vunakece and Ashton and Korbin Sims. And all eyes will be on Papua New Guinea to see what some of their players learnt after the PNG Hunters lost to the Penrith Panthers in the Intrust Super Cup Grand Final earlier this month.
As a country so dominant in rugby league, Australia has a responsibility to help grow the game internationally, particularly among our Pacific neighbours where an increasing number of our first-grade footballers are coming from.
I hope that this World Cup signals the beginning of a journey which will see international rugby league celebrated and anticipated in the same way that State of Origin is.
Good luck to all teams participating in the Rugby League World Cup this year – I can't wait to begin cheering on the Australian Kangaroos and the Australian Jillaroos.