There's a lot of similarity between the Black Ferns and the Tongan league team. Both captured the attention of a sport, both played an exciting brand and both shone a light on a path of much needed change within their respective codes.

In 10 years we could look back at 2017 as the turning point in rugby changing from a male-dominated field to a more inclusive code – and that can only be a good thing.

Women dominated the 2017 World Rugby Awards, taking out four gongs.

Kaikohe's Portia Woodman was named women's player of the year and fellow Kiwi Michaela Blyde clinched the women's sevens player of the year but the other two winners possibly hold more gravitas in the grand scheme of things.


The world champion Black Ferns were named World Rugby's team of the year over the All Blacks and England, becoming the first women's side in history to collect the accolade.

The other was Ireland's Joy Neville, who was deemed the referee of the year.

In a formerly male-dominated code, World Rugby seems to be taking the right steps by deservedly rewarding stellar performances regardless of gender.

Woodman's 13-try effort at the Women's Rugby World Cup was one of the best rugby tournament performances of all time. And those eight in one game? Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Julian Savea could only hope to get a haul like that.

The Women's Rugby World Cup gave welcome respite to the almost dreary nature of the men's 2017 season.

From a British and Irish Lions Tour that promised little and delivered slightly more to a broken Super Rugby competition and an arduous Rugby Championship and Northern Tour, New Zealand rugby seemed to be trudging along with little care.

But thank heavens for the women's game. The final between the Black Ferns and England was easily the best 80 minutes of rugby all year.

Of course, there are still a number of issues inside a sport where a systematic hierarchy operates by feeding the rich and ignoring the strugglers.


But this could be an important juncture. World Rugby is now showing they appreciate what different parts of the game bring outside of the UK and Rugby Championship.

This hasn't been extended to Pacific nations and, while it usually happens in reverse, rugby needs to heed some lessons taught by rugby league.

The Rugby League World Cup showed the strength of the Pacific nations both on the field and off. Allowing the likes of Charles Piutau (cruelly shafted by the All Blacks for a one-legged Waisake Naholo at the 2015 World Cup) to ply their trade for Tonga will produce major benefits to not only those teams but to the sport in general.

But for now we should be happy that there has been at least some recognition of the women's game. Big pay packets for those players seem distant but if rugby keeps this progressive mindset, it could happen in no time at all.