New NRL women's competition winning over World Cup players
Kiana Takairangi had been planning to return to the United States after the Rugby League Women’s World Cup to resume her American football career, while Honey Hireme was contemplating retirement.
Those thoughts ended with the announcement of a Women’s NRL Premiership starting in 2018.
The pair, who were among the stars of the World Cup, are among a host of players from Canada, the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea who have expressed interest in playing in the inaugural Women’s NRL premiership next season.
Others include PNG Orchids captain Cathy Neap and halfback Amelia Kuk, Canada Ravens hooker Barbara Waddell and prop Mackenzie Fane.
Those players told NRL.com that many of their World Cup team-mates were also keen to be part of the new competition.
“I have spoken to a couple of girls from the Cook Islands team and they are all really excited about it,” said Takairangi, whose brother Brad plays for the Parramatta Eels.
“I was planning on heading back to the US because I was playing American football prior to the World Cup, but now with this happening I am pretty sure I am going to stay around for it.”
With officials keen for the New Zealand Warriors to be one of the six teams in the 2018 competition, players from the Kiwi Ferns side which lost a thrilling final to Australia are expected to dominate that side.
However, most of the Cook Islands team live in New Zealand and while some had been planning to move to Sydney to play for Wentworthville in the NSW competition which will precede the new NRL Premiership, they may no longer need to do so.
Hireme, who scored 13 tries at the World Cup, said it is “awesome to come off a World Cup and get news like this”.
“I had thought of retirement and finishing with the World Cup but the more I hear about this I can feel the excitement growing inside me so I’m as keen as.”
Kiwi Ferns centre Shontelle Woodman was relishing the prospect of being a pioneer in the new set-up.
“I think through having better facilities, better training programs and nutritionists - like what the men get – the skill level is going to increase and it will show women there is that support which will make them more inclined to play the sport.”
With teams to be based in New Zealand, Queensland and regional NSW as well as Sydney, most of the Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns squads who dominated the World Cup will be involved but the inclusion of players from other nations will boost the standard.
Kuk enjoyed some strong performances for Papua New Guinea, while Canada had some quality players who had come from other sports and quickly adapted to the game, headed by captain Mandy Marchak, back-rower Andrea Burk, centre Natasha Smith and prop Gillian Boag.
“I have fallen in love with rugby league, I really have. If I could find the time and a way I would love to come back,” Marchak said.
Canada coach Mike Castle said at least four Ravens players had contacted him after the announcement by NRL CEO Todd Greenberg last Wednesday.
Among them were Waddell, who plays for Forestville Ferrets in Sydney and was a member of the Manly Sea Eagles women’s team which played the Cronulla Sharks last season, and Ontario-based Fane, who was a member of the Ravens’ leadership group.
“These Canadian girls are so excited about rugby league now, whereas a few months ago most of them hadn’t even heard of it,” Castle said.
Kuk also lives in Australia and plays for Ipswich Brothers in the Brisbane competition, while Neap works for the NRL as a development officer in PNG.
“For most of the girls footy is their life so if they get that opportunity to go overseas and play the sport that they love they would want to do that,” Kuk said.
Neap described playing in the NRL as “more than a dream come true – it will like living a fairy-tale life”.