Women's rugby league at a tipping point
The May 6 double-header, featuring Test matches between the Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns ahead of one between the Kangaroos and Kiwis, is another big moment in women's rugby league with the whole event to be shown on Channel Nine.
The Jillaroos have also picked up their first sleeve sponsor in Jetstar, joining jersey sponsor Harvey Norman, as the women's game continues to hit new heights.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga, who also oversees elite rugby league pathways through junior levels and among female players, said the progression was "fantastic news for everybody involved in the game," and hoped a time when women players got financially rewarded equivalent to the commitment they put in would be the next step.
"I think it's what they deserve and hopefully we can take it to another level not too far down the track and they get rewarded for all their commitment they put into the game," he said.
It is also important for the Jillaroos and Kangaroos to mix and share ideas and experiences when the two squads come together in camp in Newcastle in a fortnight.
"We'll be mixing, we'll attend a session, they'll come to our session, we've got a dinner organised where the girls will be fairly prominent. It's important they mix and we're all on the same page, we all love the game of rugby league, it doesn't matter what gender or where you're from," Meninga said.
"We want to see a successful Jillaroos. We've got a full time sports science guy coming into the unit at the moment, he's going to work closely with the girls around their training and their recovery and all that sort of stuff and give them some more professional advice around their preparation. That's an important part of trying to make them more successful."
Five-eighth Allana Ferguson told NRL.com she is ecstatic with the progress the sport has seen over recent times.
"I grew up playing when I was five to 12 and then I had nothing to go to so the fact that there's a pathway now and it's filtering through the school system and we're getting those numbers and the player pool's getting so much larger – It's exciting," she said.
"For us in terms of getting free-to-air coverage, getting new sponsorships, getting our face in the paper or on the telly – it's lifting our profiles and it's drawing connections from our local community.
"Seeing us in the Daily Telegraph or on NRL.com or on Channel Nine or on Foxtel and kids are going 'hey, this is great' – they're getting involved and it's the only way that our game's going to progress and grow so it's really exciting."
Ferguson said the feedback after the Auckland Nines had been fantastic to the point players would get recognised when they headed back to their local communities – and in her case, the school where she teaches.
"[The Nines] was shown on air so you come home and you'd go to your local coffee shop and they'd say 'we saw you, it was great, it was amazing' and someone you don't know waiting for their coffee talks about it.
"I'm a school teacher so just for my school alone it was huge, the kids loved it and now that that pathway is there, there are girls that have signed up that have never played before which is what we want."
Ferguson hoped the women's game would soon get to a point where the equivalent of a Paul Gallen, a Greg Inglis or Johnathan Thurston in the women's team would have that type of profile that girls can aspire towards and gets them involved.
Jillaroos playmaker Maddie Studdon joked that while the male players may get weary of dealing with the media, the women's players are still embracing it.
"We never used to get much media so what we get we take it on because we don't get too much of it. We love the media – the boys are probably sick of it but we love it!" she laughed.
"Since 2014 [the profile] keeps increasing every year and to be on Channel Nine now, we didn't get that three years ago so it's moving up every year.
"This year to have the Auckland Nines be televised and have this Test match on Channel Nine before the men's Test match as a double header is a great opportunity and we can't wait, we're so excited."
The Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns kick-off at Hunter Stadium on May 6 at 5.25pm ahead of the Kangaroos and Kiwis at 7.50pm.