Women In League: Mariah Broadbridge

Women are the unsung heroes in rugby league.

Every club in the NRL does not operate without them.

For Mariah Broadbridge, her journey started when she was 16 at the Penrith Panthers. 

She told no one her age – worried it could harm her chances of future employment at a club she had grown up supporting for so long.  

Players just assumed at the time she was older, but little did they know. 

"I think the maturity levels were there for me early on and that was the best thing and still important for women around the game," Broadbridge told NRL.com.

"It started back when I was in school. I have a history with the Panthers through my dad and uncles and picked up some work experience in the Pacific Test match.

"At the time I was 16 but none of the players knew that and it really earnt me the respect, they all probably thought I was older and that's the way I liked it."

Broadbridge is the daughter of former Samoan international Lino Salafai and niece to former Panthers Tony and Frank Puletua – two key men that played a role in her involvement at the club. 

She is the go-to person for player appearances and community events, while also tackling the role of game day assistant – coordinating various initiatives including 'Panthers on the Prowl' and the 'Sticks to Stadium' program. 

In her four years she has seen female involvement in both the administration and football operations increase at the foot of the mountains – now almost an even ratio across the board.

The Panthers are currently the only club in the NRL Telstra Premiership with a female head physiotherapist – 2015 club person of the year Krystal Sharp.

"With both departments they are massive and require hard work and commitment," Broadbridge said.

"From a Panthers perspective when I first started, there weren't too many females involved.  

"And it was a lot different playing roster to what we have now. There wasn't as much contact with the players back then either. 

"I now interact with the players on daily basis, am always out in the community and meeting new people from different backgrounds.

"Every day is different and that's what you want, to not sit in an office and do the same thing and I'm fortunate to not have to do that."

Broadbridge recalled Operations and Community Relations manager Tiffany Serra as the only recognised female around the club at the time. 

It was Mariah's commitment to the club and early signs of professionalism that first caught the eye of Serra, who was blown away with her maturity beyond her years.

"I put her on and she volunteered for a couple of years before I could even offer her something on a casual rate," Serra told NRL.com. 

"Game day for staff at most clubs you look at 12-16 hour days and the general public will never see that while they're at a game.

"For me someone who is willing to commit their time for so long on an unpaid basis obviously has the drive and determination to achieve the long-term goal. 

"That's why I tried for so long to offer her a position when the funds were made available."

Serra has seen first-hand the change in female involvement in the game since the Women in League Round was introduced 11 seasons ago.

Coincidently it was the Panthers who burst onto the scene with the full-kit hot pink jerseys that soon started a trend within the game. 

"We've got a good number now of girls now around the office which is pleasing, but it has taken some time for rugby league as a business to realise what women can bring to the game," Serra said. 

"Mariah is certainly an example of that, she's one of the main contacts for any community appearances or requests and the players all respect her and appreciate her help towards them. 

"She has a massive influence on what we do and I'm pleased she is getting the recognition she deserves."

The now 20-year-old was promoted to full-time employment at the start of the season and is now the Panthers' Community and Game Day Coordinator. 

Persistence pays off.

This article first appeared on NRL.com.