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Volume 6 No. 211

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The "sleeping giant of Australian women's sport has woken" following Wednesday's announcement that the National Rugby League will introduce a women's premiership next season, according to Rikki-Lee Arnold of the Brisbane COURIER-MAIL. After witnessing the "immediate success and interest" around the women's Big Bash League and the Australian Football League Women's, the NRL "answered calls from those within its own game to deliver the elite competition." The tournament, which will include six NRL-affiliated clubs, will be played alongside the men's finals, "culminating in a women's decider on the biggest stage on grand final day." By playing the league alongside the men's finals, the governing body "has also found the competition its own place on the women's sporting calendar." NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said that "the time was right for the game to introduce its own competition, with support for women's sport at a new high." Greenberg: "It's fair to say in this country at this particular moment, women's sport has never seen this level of support before. We're no different. We have listened very carefully to the players who are playing and also the fans and we have worked really hard to take our first step in this journey" (COURIER-MAIL, 12/6).

'FIRST STEP': The AAP reported Greenberg called it the "first step" toward a 24-round, fully professional, elite competition to be played alongside the men's. He said, "It's the first step. And it is a journey. We've got to be very careful and prudent about how we put these systems in place because rugby league is a tough sport and we want to make sure we have all the care around our players and the physical training that's needed, the technique that's needed." The inaugural competition is expected to run from August to September. There will be a centralized contracting system with 40 Jillaroos players to receive pay deals "on top of their national women's championship match fees." There will also be "a national combine designed to attract and poach the best talent from other sports" including Australian Rules, football, cricket, netball and rugby union (AAP, 12/5).

'NO LONGER CURTAIN-RAISERS': In Sydney, Adrian Proszenko reported the NRL predicts it is just "three to four years" away from unveiling a competition "capable of challenging the AFLW." Australian Rugby League Commission Chair John Grant expected that to occur "some time within the next broadcasting cycle." He said, "I think it will be three to four years. It will be in this current cycle of broadcast -- I'd be surprised if we don't get to that full, strong competition. What we need to do [first] is put good football on each week, which means you need a playing group and numbers coming through pathways." Jillaroo Ruan Sims, who led the side to a Women's Rugby League World Cup victory, said that there was a time when she was recognized "only as being the sibling of footballing stars Ashton, Korbin and Tariq." However, Sims said that "the exposure that came with the World Cup win had made the Jillaroos stars in their own right." Sims: "We've actually changed the discussion points -- we are no longer curtain-raisers, we are doubleheaders with the men. We're on the same pedestal as the boys. That's a big step forward in the quality of the sport" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 12/6). In Sydney, Matt Bungard reported Sims said, "The last piece in the puzzle is this national competition, but what was more exciting for me was that we genuinely have a juniors to Jillaroos pathway. We've been so successful in changing the language that surrounds rugby league ... we're a genuine force in the game" (SMH, 12/6).

TIME TO APPLY: In Sydney, Fiona Bollen reported applications for the competition will "open soon." Fourteen clubs "have already expressed an interest in being part of the inaugural competition" after being briefed on the plans during the CEOs meeting earlier this week. Tender applications will be sent to clubs before Christmas and Greenberg said that he wanted to be able to announce which clubs were successful -- "ideally across a geographical spread around Australia and New Zealand" -- by "about Round 1 of the NRL season" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 12/7). STUFF's Marvin France reported NRL side Warriors CEO Cameron George confirmed he "has had talks with the NRL about the competition." While there are "several key details still to be worked out," including funding, he believes it presents a "huge opportunity for the Auckland-based club." George: "It's certainly something that we'd like to explore further. I believe that participating in the competition would be fantastic for the Vodafone Warriors, our fans, our commercial partners and most importantly be great for rugby league in New Zealand" (STUFF, 12/6).

Rugby Football Union CEO Steve Brown said that the RFU "is open to the possibility of getting rid of promotion and relegation to and from the Premiership," according to Gerard Meagher of the London GUARDIAN. The RFU has "traditionally been against ring-fencing the top flight" but Brown conceded that as discussions continue over how the domestic structure fits in with the global calendar from '20 onward, its stance "has changed somewhat." Reducing the Premiership to 10 teams is reportedly "also among a host of suggestions previously made." Brown: "There’s no specific plan of action at this point." Brown "also hinted that doing away with one or both of the A League and the Anglo-Welsh Cup may also be part of the solution." He said, "We're looking at all options, but there's no specific consideration of numbers [of teams in each league] at the moment" (GUARDIAN, 12/5). In London, Mick Cleary reported several leading players "have threatened strike action over mooted proposals" to have a 10-month domestic season stretching from September to June. Brown stated that he took those threats "very seriously," but remains confident that a solution "will be found by the end of the season" (TELEGRAPH, 12/5).

UNDER PRESSURE: In London, Jack de Menezes reported World Rugby has "been urged to get to the root of the rugby crisis in the Pacific Islands" after the RFU faced calls to give its matchday takings to the "bankrupt" Samoan Rugby Union ahead of last month’s autumn int'l, with the English governing body stressing it is not its duty to "bail them out." Brown said, "I think the bottom line is we feel for the unions that are struggling. ... Our response to the situation was to firstly think about what we might do just purely from a player perspective. ... The second thing was to put some pressure on World Rugby to help us or them to find a resolution in particular with Samoa and their situation" (INDEPENDENT, 12/5).

EuroLeague execs met on Tuesday and "addressed a number of topics," holding "preliminary discussions" about EuroLeague expansion, according to AS. It is possible that the league "could decide to expand from 16 to 18 teams" in March or April. Two French clubs "have shown an interest in joining the competition: Strasbourg and Asvel," which is owned by NBA San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker. The EuroLeague also "reiterated its commitment to finding a solution to the scheduling conflict with FIBA." During the meeting, "three possible alternatives to the current calendar were discussed" (AS, 12/6).

Racehorse trainer Richard Hannon "urged authorities to meet trainers and discuss the contentious issue of strict liability before it destroys someone's career," according to Mark Souster of the LONDON TIMES. The call comes after the classic-winning handler was fined £8,000 ($10,700) by the British Horseracing Authority for a horse failing a drugs test for a painkiller this summer -- "a punishment that he plans to appeal." Hannon said, "It is too broad and way too black and white. It is very easy for the BHA to say, 'You're the licensed trainer, you carry the can for everything. That's it.' That is not right." He was fined after traces of tramadol were found in a urine sample of De Bruyne Horse. Hannon: "I have tried everything to find out the source. If somebody wanted to finish someone as a trainer, they could walk into the yard, put some steroids in a feed and they have the power to get you shut down" (LONDON TIMES, 12/6).

'BAFFLING LACK OF SUPPORT': In Dublin, Brian O'Connor reported outgoing Horse Racing Ireland Chair Joe Keeling launched a "stinging attack" on the Irish government, accusing it of a "baffling lack of support" in not increasing betting tax. Keeling's tenure is due to end in March and he used Tuesday's 15th HRI Awards to declare that some cabinet members need to adopt "some bravery" on the betting tax issue. Irish racing received €64M ($85.6M) in state money through the Horse & Greyhound Fund in '17. But there was "widespread disappointment" in the sport when that allocation stayed the same in the '18 budget (IRISH TIMES, 12/5).