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).