NRL defends photo of rugby players' kiss

Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki embraced at the end of the inaugural women's State of Origin match on Friday. Photo: NRL Facebook

Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki embraced at the end of the inaugural women's State of Origin match on Friday. Photo: NRL Facebook

The NRL has hit back at critics of a photo of two rugby league players from rival teams kissing after the end of the women's inaugural State of Origin match on Friday night.

The photo captured an embrace between NSW player Vanessa Foliaki and Queenslander Karina Brown in the middle of the pitch following the end of the game.

The couple, who have been together since 2014, are usually teammates for the national league squad, the Jillaroos, but faced off against each other for a competitive match on rival teams in the Origin match.

The photo was shared by NRL and Women's Rugby League on Facebook with the caption "#OurWay", but generated a mixed response.

Replying to one critic on Facebook, the NRL wrote: "Welcome to 2018... can't wait for you to join us!"

The NRL also hit back against comments suggesting the NRL was "sexualising" the game by sharing the photo.

"If we can post a [photo] of Cooper Cronk and his wife Tara kissing, then we can share a photo of Karina Brown and Ness Foliaki sharing a moment too," the NRL wrote.

Meanwhile, others expressed surprise at the cross-border relationship, commenting on the photo: "how can someone kiss a Queenslander?"

Describing their relationship to NRL earlier this month, Brown and Foliaki said they had been openly competitive with each other in the lead-up to the Origin match, at times not even talking with each other so they can focus on the sport.

Million viewers

As the blues took home the match on Friday, winning 16-10, the game saw more than one million viewers tune in across Australia to watch the game.

While the game was the first time the women's competition had been given the title of an "origin" match, it was the third consecutive victory for NSW in inter-state encounters.

Channel 9 had more than 839,000 people watching the match at peak times nationwide, while another 171,000 people tuned into Fox League to watch the event.

Nearly half of all viewers were in Sydney and Brisbane alone, with more than 456,000 people cheering on the Blues and the Maroons.

The popularity of the match paves the way for the second round of the men's Origin, which will take place Sunday evening at the ANZ stadium. NSW leads after a win in the opening match in Melbourne.

Following Friday's match the Queensland women's coach Jason Hetherington called for the competition to be extended into a three-game series.

The NRL was given a Pride in Sport award earlier this week by national not-for-profit Pride in Sport, recognising their efforts to make the sport more inclusive of LGBTI people.

Last September the NRL invited US rapper Macklemore to perform his song "One Love" at their grand final, a song recognised for its support of marriage equality, in the midst of Australia's postal vote on same-sex marriage.

This story first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald