Jillaroos star Maddie Studdon's childhood dream of playing for South Sydney Rabbitohs is set to come true after the club announced it was entering the NSWRL Harvey Norman Premiership and had made a submission to field a team in the new NRL Women's competition later this year.
Studdon, whose father worked alongside Craig Coleman as assistant coach of the SG Ball team, was a ball girl for the Rabbitohs with Coleman's son Liam, and she grew up wanting to play for the 110-year-old foundation club.
"I started playing when I was four years old and me and Liam were ball girl and ball boy for South Sydney," Studdon said.
"I played up until I was 12 years old and then I couldn't play anymore but I always went to training at Mascot Oval and then with the SG Ball teams for South Sydney with my dad.
"He coached Nathan Peats and Adam Reynolds. I think it helped me to be training and kicking the ball around with the boys and doing extras after training as well."
The 23-year-old playmaker was one of four Jillaroos representatives to have signed contracts to play in the Rabbitohs inaugural women's team, along with Nakia Davis-Welsh, Lavina O'Mealey and Jasmin Allende.
The NSWRL women's premiership team will play a number of curtain-raisers before the Rabbitohs NRL side at ANZ Stadium, and the club is hopeful of being granted one of up to six licences for the NRLW competition.
"I think having that pathway now and opening it up for all the girls now to be able to play up to the higher levels is really good for women in league," Studdon said.
"When I was young I was always looking up to the boys but now these young girls who are four years old or six years old can have a dream of playing in the women's open comp."
The Rabbitohs will compete against other New South Wales-based teams in the women's competition, won in 2017 by the Redfern All Blacks. The team will be coached by Danny Allende and managed by Sharon Maza who were both part of the victorious Redfern All Blacks team last season.
The Redfern All Blacks will be a feeder team for the new Rabbitohs side, along with other clubs in the South Sydney junior league, with the club providing a pathway for female players in the South Sydney district to play from the under 6s through to the elite level.
"My uncle played first grade for Souths, my dad played, I played and all of a sudden now I am watching my daughter play so I couldn't be any prouder," Allende said.
Davis-Welsh said: "To have young girls write to me on social media and they come up and they actually know my name and want an autograph, it is an amazing feeling and I am glad that I am now one of those girls who are idols and role models".
Rabbitohs general manager of football Shane Richardson said South Sydney wanted to be a foundation club in the new NRLW competition, as they were when the game stared in Australia in 1908.
"We are a foundation club of rugby league in Australia, right back to 1908," Richardson said. "Our submission strongly supports our case to be a foundation club in the NRL's women's competition 110 years later.
"The game has taken great strides in promoting the women's game and increasing the influence that women across the board have on the sport, whether they are players, administrators, volunteers or members.
"As a club we are grateful for the support of South Sydney Juniors and the Redfern All Blacks, and we are very proud to be fielding our first official women's team in 2018."