Sharks sign another Jillaroo to historic deal
Fresh off signing Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims to a historic playing contract – the first of its kind for a female rugby league player – Cronulla have signed Jillaroos centre Corban McGregor on a similar deal.
The 22-year-old speedster only started playing rugby league in 2014, joining the Helensburgh Tiger Lillies before a move to the Cronulla Sharks for 2016.
McGregor was picked for NSW in 2015 and made her green and gold debut at the 2016 Auckland Nines, and also played the Trans-Tasman Test in May.
Her contract, on the back of that signed by Sims last week, is another major step towards full-time professionalism in the women's game.
"It is huge and I'm super stoked for Ruan and I also signed mine [this week]," McGregor told NRL.com.
"We have a couple more girls to be unveiled in the next couple of weeks so it's very exciting."
McGregor hoped the greater drive towards professionalism at club level would help pay dividends through to the national team.
"The things Jason Stanton, our head coach, has planned for us and our preparation for the Nines tournament coming up next year will only benefit us at rep level so there should be some huge improvements in our game," McGregor added.
Stanton said McGregor was a role model for women in the game.
"We're really excited to have Corban join the squad because she represents the new type of player coming through – she's strong and fast and very skilful as well," Stanton told NRL.com.
"Her being a mum and such an amazing person off the field, she's a really good role model for people to look up to and it's great for women's sport in general.
"We have these women who are great athletes and ambassadors for women's rugby league and now they have the opportunity to represent at the highest level week in week out and we're really excited to give them that opportunity."
Like virtually all of her contemporaries, McGregor has had to make sacrifices to commit to the sport despite not having access to the same resources as full-time male players.
This includes raising her now-five-year-old son Carter and training to be a personal trainer as well as working with well-regarded sprint coach Roger Fabri, but McGregor said her strong support network has helped her commit everything she needs to to succeed in rugby league.
"I have a five-year-old son so finding time to balance family and sport and work can be tough sometimes but I'm really lucky I've got a great support network and they really help me make sure I get to all my training and help with Carter," she said.
"I'm very lucky in that sense so it could sound like it's a difficulty that makes it harder to get to training but I still manage to do everything I need to do."
Sims hopes to eventually see every NRL club follow Cronulla's lead in signing up female players to playing contracts, which would further benefit the national and state teams.
"[The Jillaroos] will just receive better trained, more performance-based athletes when they get together at Jillaroos camp and it will be easier for them to manage because they'll be able to see the change and the difference when we come into camp," Sims told NRL.com.
"I'd love to see all NRL clubs get on board and do what we're doing down at the Sharks because that competition will only increase and make it an even more exciting brand of football. It's a great time for female rugby league players now and we're creating something that could be a future career pathway for girls.
"I'd love to see a future where women are contracted to NRL clubs full time, training full time, doing everything full-time and then same as the men, have their Origin and All Stars and Test football on top of that."
NSWRL Performance Programs Manager Jamie Feeney, who was part of the coaching staff that helped guide Sims and McGregor and their NSW teammates to a drought-breaking win over Queensland this year, said he can envisage a time where there are NSW Cup and Queensland Cup (currently the Intrust Super Premiership and Intrust Super Cup) for women.
"They work as hard as the boys, and the majority of them at the moment have day jobs they have to work most of the time," Feeney told NRL.com.
"They're semi-professional; it's great to see Ruan sign the first contract for a woman. I see that as the start of many more as the game grows. It's an honour to be part of that growth and be able to hopefully influence the growth of the game on the women's side," he added.