The Good, The Bad and The What’s Next from the NRL’s Plan for a Women’s Competition
By Sam Squiers
Women finally have a league of their own with the NRL revealing it will start a Women’s Premiership in 2018 – Sportette breaks down and analyses the key components of the plan.
The Good…let’s just say all of it.
Finally the day has come. And how far we have come to get here.
The announcement of the NRL’s elite women’s premiership competition in 2018 is a huge moment for all women in sport. There’s now a future for little girls who love playing the game from Juniors to Jillaroos.
It’s hard to believe it was just three years ago, Sportette was lifting the lid on the ugly reality of the women’s game, including that first “curtain-raiser” the Jillaroos played ahead of the ANZAC Test where the girls ran out onto an empty stadium when someone forgot to open the gates to let family and supporters inside.
We’ve come far and looking back on the list compiled for Sportette in 2014 co-authored by former Jillaroo Tarah Westera, it’s nice to see some of those steps reflected in the NRL’s plan (including points 1,2,3,4,5,6,10)
- The women’s premiership is scheduled to run alongside the NRL finals series. This timing originally made me nervous as I feared it could dampen the hype with the men’s finals (let’s be honest) usually trumping anything and everything that time of year. The AFL scheduled its AFLW in the men’s off season for this reason. But exposure is key to the success of women’s sports and a captive audience before the finals matches could provide the ultimate stage for the women to show what they’re all about and build an even bigger legion of fans. Holding the Women’s season in the lead up to the men’s NRL season would also put it on a collision course with the AFLW, WBBL and the pre-season of the Suncorp Super Netball League.
- The competition will culminate on Grand Final Day when the girls will play in the lead up to the men’s decider. No longer will Grand Final be a “women free zone” something this journo has been writing about for the past decade.
- The Top 40 Jillaroos will be contracted – just how much these contracts will be worth is still to be determined but this is a huge step in increasing the level of professionalism in the women’s game.
- Origin! Finally Origin for women. Now don’t be fooled the girls have effectively been playing a State of Origin for the past 19 years. It has been called the “Interstate Challenge” and while teams as young as under 16s have played curtain raisers to Origin, the girls were yet to play on the origin stage, their games scheduled outside of the Origin period, and in recent years, as a curtain raiser to a standard premiership match. But that’s now about to change. The women’s origin will be held as a stand alone game on June 22 – Origin II weekend. Next year the NRL is holding Origin on the weekend and the girls will play on the Friday night ahead of the men’s Origin on the Sunday. With no other games on the Friday night, this will be a great opportunity for the Women’s game so long as it’s broadcast on a main channel.
The Bad…we’re not being negative just providing critical analysis.
- Sportette would have liked to have seen the women play an Origin Series instead of a stand-alone game. After 19 years of playing an “Interstate Challenge” the women’s game is at a level where it would have been warranted.
- The timing makes me nervous. It’s now December which isn’t leaving much time for club licences to be awarded, recruitment to occur, club facilities to be expanded and hype to build. As a comparison, in 2010 the AFL made public its plans for a Women’s professional league which was launched earlier this year. While I don’t expect the NRL to wait 7 years, this league has to done correctly and has to be properly resourced and supported by the clubs. This can’t be rushed through for the sake of the NRL playing catch up with rival leagues and in order to tick a gender equality box. The talent pool of women is there to make this a success, my only concern would be that the NRL has left it too late to adequately plan.
- Saying that the Raiders have already ruled themselves out of a licence because of a lack of facilities for women. Ensuring the clubs provide professional facilities for the girls to train, change and feel a part of the game is vital. The girls must be treated as part of the club, as players and representatives and not just competition winners who can run out with the team on game day.
What’s Next…where else can constructive change occur in the game
- Six teams will be awarded initial contracts. The NRL wants to grow this number “slowly” so as not to dilute the talent pool. We just hope it’s not “too slowly” which could drain interest in the women’s game.
- As mentioned it would be great to see the Women’s State of origin match grow to a series to mirror the men’s.
- Broadcasting matches is key to the success of this competition. Discussions are currently underway with Channel 9 and Fox Sports.
- Women are a part of the Dally M Awards but it would be great to see the Women’s Dally M named after a female pioneer player instead of being called “Female Player of the Year”, the Murphy Medal has a nice ring to it (after Karyn Murphy).
- It would be great to see more awards for women on Rugby League’s night of nights The Dally M not just the one award. Captain, Coach, Representative, Try Scorer, Point Score and Team of the Year Awards. If not why not??
Overall this is an historic day for women in sport one which provide the framework and foundations for little girls to see their dreams of playing professionally come true. It’s not just the responsibility of the league now though, we all have a role to play in seeing this succeed from the media, clubs, sponsors, players and fans. The NRL has built it, now we must all come to the party.