Rugby league women recognised in honours

Women involved in rugby league in New Zealand were well-represented in the Queen's Birthday honours announced on Monday.

At the top of the list was Winnie Laban, made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education and the Pacific community.

Dame Winnie has strong links with rugby league. She still lives in Wainuiomata where her younger brother Ken was a long-time player and she is the Wellington Rugby League’s current patron. Ken’s sons Luke and Hanan both have rugby league backgrounds. Luke was a former NYC player with the Vodafone Junior Warriors while Hanan played in Newcastle and is now CEO at Intrust Super Cup club Wynnum Manly in Brisbane.

Also honoured today were Christine Panapa and Laura Mariu, who were both awarded with the MNZM (Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit).

Panapa was recognised for her contribution to sport and to Maori.

She was a central figure in helping to establish the New Zealand Women’s Rugby League, which used to operate as a separate entity but is now embraced by the New Zealand Rugby League. She held various positions in the organisation as the Kiwi Ferns stamped themselves as the dominant force in the game by winning the first three women’s rugby league World Cup titles in 2000, 2005 and 2008.

Kiwi Ferns captain Mariu becomes an MNZM for her contribution to rugby league.

The 37-year-old has the distinction of playing in all five women’s World Cup tournaments; she was in New Zealand’s winning teams in 2000, 2005 and 2008 and was also in the Kiwi Ferns teams beaten in the 2013 and 2017 finals.

She had intended to retire from international football after last year’s World Cup but has instead decided to play, marking her MNZM today by leading Counties Manukau to victory in the women’s national tournament final and being selected in the wider Kiwi Ferns squad.