Women's World Cup a leap in the right direction
The Rugby League World Cup 2017 Organising Committee has announced that for the first time in the sport's history the Women's Rugby League World Cup will be held concurrently with the men's tournament.
Next year's event will see all pool matches and both semi-finals played at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Sydney with the final set to be held at Suncorp Stadium before the men's final.
Tuesday's announcement continued an incredible year for the women's game which has seen the formation of an under-18s Nines competition to begin next year, as well as women's Test and Nines matches on both the international and local stage.
For Jillaroos skipper Ruan Sims, the announcement capped off an incredible 12 months that saw her lead New South Wales to a first ever State of Origin win, as well as steering the Sharks to victory in the inaugural women's Nines match.
"This is a huge opportunity for rugby league. This isn't just a step in the right direction, it's a few leaps in the right direction," Sims told NRL.com.
"We are working towards becoming professional in rugby league and to be put on the same footing as the men's competition means we're being taken seriously and that's an exciting prospect."
Sims was particularly pleased that the World Cup would be staged in the Shire.
"It's a huge area for women's rugby league and women's sport as a whole," she said.
"I don't know if it's just the location where you've got beaches galore, parks and all of this space where you can just go out and play and run around and be active.
"The reason I believe that Cronulla was selected for the World Cup is because Cronulla Sharks have shown a huge amount of leadership within the women's game.
"They're not just talking the talk, they're actually walking the walk and they're putting us out there as the women's NRL Nines side. They're backing us, they're coaching us and they're giving us everything we need to be successful."
The Jillaroos skipper took part in the Nines match at Southern Cross Group Stadium in August between the Sharks and Dragons and is confident the support shown on that occasion will increase 10-fold at next year's tournament.
"I think it'll be even bigger next year because it's not just Sharks and Dragons, or Bulldogs and Cowboys, it's going to be Australia, New Zealand, England, an Oceania team hopefully and possibly more teams from North America," she said.
"I know that a lot of people are going to get behind it and are really champing at the bit to get involved."
Kiwi Ferns captain Sarina Fiso told NRL.com that the game back in New Zealand would benefit greatly from next year's tournament.
"It's a big leap in the right direction for the women's game," she said.
"It's huge for the game because we get the opportunity to participate on the world stage again and that's something that we've embraced since we started to have these opportunities.
"We've seen a noticeable growth in the last couple of years. I've been a part of the Kiwi Ferns for the past 11 years now, and in the last couple of years we've had our first televised game only months ago, and since then we've had so much interest.
"We're hoping to build off that and get a clear pathway for younger women coming up through the grades."
RLWC2017 CEO Andrew Hill said next year's Women's World Cup – set to feature six countries – will be the perfect platform to put the women's game on the world stage.
"It's only fitting these gifted athletes get the opportunity to showcase their skills on a global stage and we see next year's Women’s Rugby League World Cup as a game changer for the sport," he said.
"Female participation in all forms of rugby league is the fastest growing category in the game and women's international rugby league has made great strides forward in recent years.
"To have both the women's and men’s finals played on the same day, at the same venue will conclude what will be the greatest ever Rugby League World Cup."