NRL Women's Premiership set to launch
Geography is set to play a key role in deciding which clubs are granted licences in the inaugural NRL Women's Premiership next season, with officials keen to start the competition with teams based in New Zealand, Queensland and regional NSW, as well as Sydney.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg on Wednesday announced a six-team competition featuring 40 centrally-contracted Jillaroos stars and match payments for all other players as the centre point of a 2018 women's program. There will also be a stand-alone State of Origin and Pacific and trans-Tasman Tests.
With most Telstra Premiership clubs having indicated an interest in entering teams in the new women's competition - which will be played as double-headers in the lead up to and during the NRL finals series - Greenberg said a tender process would commence in January.
Among the criteria will be geography, training facilities and other resources to ensure players are prepared for the demands of a competition which will start after the grand finals of the NSW and Queensland State League competitions being held during the Women In League round.
"It is going to create some tension, that is for sure," Greenberg said of the competition for licences.
"I would imagine that almost every one of our NRL clubs would be interested in how they obtain a franchise in year one. That is a good thing as it will add some competition.
"We met with all of our NRL CEOs yesterday and there was huge support for this program and a real appetite for it."
Greenberg said broadcasters were also interested in the new competition, which is no surprise given that last Saturday's Rugby League Women's World Cup final averaged 225,000 viewers on 7Mate.
To ensure the competition is as strong as possible, officials hope the majority of players from the Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns teams involved in the final, won 22-16 by Australia, would play – all but ensuring the New Zealand Warriors are one of the six clubs awarded licences.
Brisbane Broncos are another club likely to be included, while Cronulla Sharks and St George Illawarra Dragons are expected to be among the frontrunners for a licence given the Sharks were the first team to contract players this season and the strength of the Illawarra Women's League.
"Clubs will be asked to submit formal tender documents as part of the application process and they will be assessed on a number of measurements," Greenberg said.
"Commitment to grassroots and elite female talent through their own communities, high performance training facilities, resourcing, welfare and education - all of those things will be put in the mix as we assess applications.
"In a perfect world, we would consider geography within all of our tender documentation and what I mean by that is having a spread that takes into account New Zealand, takes into account NSW and Sydney particularly, but also Queensland and regionals like Canberra, Newcastle and Melbourne."
While there is interest to have more than six teams, the NRL wants to ensure the quality of the competition is high and will also introduce a National Championship Carnival and Talent Combine for female players hoping to progress to the elite level.
"Year one is our start and I hope to see growth in this on annual basis," Greenberg said. "It's the first step and it is a journey, there is no doubt about that.
"We have to be very careful and prudent about how we put these systems in place because rugby league is a tough sport so we want to make sure we have all the care around our players and the physical training that is needed and the technique that is needed."
The amount that players can earn will be determined in negotiations with the RLPA but a sum of money was put aside for the women's game in the recently finalised Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NRL and players.
"We have already had a number of constructive conversations with the NRL regarding the vision for Women's Rugby League, so we look forward to continuing that positive dialogue into the future," RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast said.
"We all saw the impressive level of skill showcased in the Women's Rugby League World Cup over the past few weeks, so this will be a great addition to the Rugby League calendar moving forward."