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Why Sharks and Rabbitohs aren't guaranteed places in women's comp

"Back in 1908, JJ Giltinan was in the same shoes that I'm in today and he had to let down a few people in the first iteration of how many clubs came into a competition. We're exactly at that point today."

That was NRL CEO Todd Greenberg's response to criticism from the Cronulla Sharks and South Sydney Rabbitohs over their omission from the inaugural four-team NRL Holden Women's Premiership announced last week.

What Greenberg didn't say was that if Giltinan, who founded the game in Australia 110 years ago, was starting the NRL competition today he wouldn't select the current 16 Telstra Premiership clubs.

And, while no decision has yet been made on expansion of the women's competition, adding teams from western Sydney, Newcastle and North Queensland ahead of the Sharks and Rabbitohs appears the next logical step.

For decades it has been argued that there are too many NRL teams in Sydney, with almost universal agreement that a second Brisbane side is needed, and possibly another based in Perth.

Rationalisation in 2000 saw the North Sydney Bears fall by the wayside and the formation of the St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers joint ventures, but nine Sydney clubs remain.

Jillarros star Isabelle Kelly.
Jillarros star Isabelle Kelly. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Which teams should stay and which should go is a matter of debate and new funding grants for clubs, which exceed the salary cap by $3 million per year, mean they should all be financially viable.

However, it is unlikely that any administrator starting a competition today would want two inner-city clubs in the Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters, or the Sharks and Dragons based side-by-side in southern Sydney.

When Giltinan was elected secretary of the NSWRL at an historic meeting at Bateman's Crystal Hotel on August 7, 1907, Balmain and Glebe were considered the western suburbs.

The Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers and Wests Tigers are now all based further west, while the Rabbitohs play home games at ANZ Stadium to be closer to where many of their fans live.

NRL officials were disappointed that none of the western Sydney clubs bid for licences but with more time to prepare they are expected to do so next year.

All four clubs have teams in this season's under 18s Tarsha Gale Cup, while the Bulldogs have established a side in the Harvey Norman NSWRL Women's Premiership.

If the NRL women's competition is to expand, another team in Queensland is a must as 19 of the 40 players selected for NRL contracts reside in the state, ensuring the Brisbane Broncos will field a virtual Origin squad.

With the Warriors able to draw on players from the Kiwi Ferns as well as others from the Cook Islands World Cup squad who live in New Zealand, they will have a Test-strength line-up.

In comparison, the Dragons and Roosters will be vying for the 20 NSW-based players on NRL contracts, which is a reason why the NRL was reluctant to include four Sydney clubs in a six-team competition.

After seeking input from the Jillaroos players, the NRL was determined that the teams be as evenly matched as possible to try and avoid blow out scorelines in the first season.

There were also concerns about the workload for elite female players, most of whom were involved in last year's World Cup, the recent Commonwealth Championships and play for teams in state-based competitions.

In addition, they have the National Championships on June 1-3, followed by State of Origin on June 22, the NRL Women's Premiership to coincide with the NRL finals and a trans-Tasman Test double-header in October.

Jillaroos representative Kezie Apps.
Jillaroos representative Kezie Apps. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

While the Sharks and Rabbitohs also had strong bids, the Dragons and Roosters were awarded licences because of their geographic reach.

The Roosters have been associated with the Central Coast since 2014, with the Wyong Roos being their feeder team in the NSW Intrust Super Premiership and the area's representative teams adopting the club's colours and nickname.

Jillaroos centre Isabelle Kelly and halfback Caitlin Moran are expected to be among the Roosters recruits, while the club is understood to have also offered to pay relocation costs for the likes of Northern Territory-based Jillaroo Meg Ward.

The Dragons boast more than 14,000 female participants from Kogarah to Batemans Bay and have one of the strongest and most established women's competitions, with Kezie Apps and Sam Bremner playing for Helensburgh Tigerlillies.

Fellow Jillaroo Rikeyah Horne plays for Corrimal Cougars, while Ruan Sims, Corban McGregor, Maddie Studdon and Allana Ferguson have previously played in the Illawarra Women's League.

Vanessa Foliaki, who now plays for Brisbane Easts, also has ties to the area and may be targetted by the Dragons, along with NSW winger Jessica Sergis 

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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