Women headed towards full competition
Rapidly improving player pathways in women's rugby league suggest a full time senior women's competition involving NRL clubs and broadcast on television could be closer than we think.
Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims is hoping more NRL clubs can take a leaf out of Cronulla's book in supporting women's teams at the senior level while Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle is helping Canterbury drive an increase in female teams from the junior level up to the top level.
"We'd love to see within five years an NRL competition for women and that's a much closer initiative because the Sharks have already started pushing from their end," Sims told NRL.com ahead of Harvey Norman Women in League Round.
"What the Sharks are doing [implementing a women's Nines team], I'd love all the other NRL clubs to take that on board and then all the NRL and NSW Rugby League have to do is worry about managing the competition as opposed to getting teams up and running and getting them moving.
"I'd love to see clubs getting involved, taking on the mould that we've got at the Sharks then building a little Nines team then hopefully making them a really big part of the NRL competition as a whole and a valuable asset to every club."
Castle elaborated on some of the work Canterbury is doing in that space.
"We've got a junior rugby league competition so we go from under-4s right up to the NRL team and we've got 18 new female teams playing in junior rugby league competitions right across the Canterbury-Bankstown area," Castle told NRL.com.
"There's been pressure in that junior rugby league space to have a female competition and young girls being able to play the sport, make it their sport of choice so as we see that grow there's absolutely no reason we can't see curtain raisers with two female teams playing curtain raisers before [NRL games], why not."
Traditionally, female players have had to go away from rugby league at 12 years of age due to a lack of competitions, with Jillaroos players having strong touch footy backgrounds. Even with improved league pathways it's important to retain the relationship with touch, Castle added.
"The mix of tackle and touch is a really important mix for us to have because not every girl feels comfortable playing tackle," she said.
"But touch rugby is such an enormously engaged sport – you can play girls, you can play mixed, you can play men's.
"That pathway to move through to playing full tackle if that's what you want but also to potentially play for Australia in touch gives those two double pathways for female engagement. It's a genuine option for our high quality athletes."