Female players at this week's World Cup 9s tournament are set to receive the same payment as their male counterparts.
And, in another step forward for the international game, there will also be pay parity across all teams in the upcoming Oceania Cup Tests.
For the first time, players from the 12 men's teams and four women's teams involved in the World Cup Nines at Bankwest Stadium on October 18 and 19 will each be paid $2000.
Players from the six nations in the Oceania Cup – Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga – will each receive $2500 per Test under a new payment model expected to be adapted for the 2021 World Cup.
The move towards pay parity in the international game is a dramatic step forward since the 2017 World Cup, during which male and female players from many nations received little or no payment, while the Kangaroos were paid $50,000 each for winning the tournament.
However, it is a costly undertaking for the RLIF and a reason the game is investing in the World Cup Nines and Oceania Cup is to create new opportunities for the international body to add revenue.
With so much at stake, it was crucial that the best possible Tonga team played against Great Britain Lions at Hamilton on October 26 and in the Oceania Cup clash with the Kangaroos at Eden Park on November 2.
Last year's historic Test between Australia and Tonga in Auckland only went ahead after Kangaroos players accepted a 75 per cent reduction of their $20,000 match fee to ensure the financial viability of the game and enable their opponents to be paid.
Since then the RLIF, RLPA and NRL have been working to close the gap across the international game – not just in terms of payment but also with the development of protocols for player welfare.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg is a leading member of the Male Champions of Change in Sport group, which earlier this year announced the "Pathway to Pay Equality" initiative for elite female athletes.
Payment first for England, PNG women
England and Papua New Guinea women are set to be paid for the first time at the World Cup Nines.
While leading Jillaroos stars can now earn more than $40,000 per year, the $2000 Nines payment is a significant increase on the $500 per Test they received when paid for the first time in 2014 and $4000 they earned for winning the 2017 World Cup.
The 2013 World Cup in England was the first time Jillaroos players had their expenses paid. Most still have to combine work or study with their playing and training commitments.
However, it was decided when planning begun for the World Cup Nines that all players - male and female - should receive the same participation payment.
Prizemoney is less for the successful women's World Cup Nines teams as they do not have play semi-finals.
RLWC2021 organisers have indicated that they are working towards participation fees for all teams at the World Cup for the first time, with support from the RLIF.
RLPA GM of stakeholder relations Clint Newton said the developments would make it easier for women to play at international level.
“The RLIF have worked really collaboratively with us the secure equality in a base payment to all nations competing in the Oceania Cup and the NRL did the same thing with the Nines – for both men and women," Newton said.
“A lot of female players are employed and they have to take unpaid leave or time off work if they have really compassionate employers to be able to manage that.
“To be able to be paid a base payment of $2,000 to participate in the tournament - the same as the men - just eliminates some of the pressure and stress that is placed on these women, who basically want to do everything they can to play the sport they love and continually promote it."
Pay parity for Pacific nations
Players from the six teams in the Oceania Cup will each receive a participation payment of $2500 per Test from the RLIF.
The move towards equal pay among nations contrasts significantly with the disparity at the 2017 World Cup, during which Australian players received $50,000 each for winning the tournament and players from some other nations were paid just $500.
Kangaroos players spoke at the time about their willingness to take a pay cut so that their counterparts in Pacific nations - many of whom are fellow NRL players - could be paid a reasonable amount for their efforts.
Fiji and Tonga both qualified for the semi-finals, while Papua New Guinea and Samoa reached the quarter-final stage after some players from the Pacific nations ignored the lure of Australia or New Zealand to play for little more than family pride.
The move towards a more equitable payment structure follows discussions between the RLIF, RLPA and NRL since last year to find a way to satisfy player welfare demands while ensuring the viability of international fixtures.
"The RLPA have been really supportive about this," RLIF Southern Hemisphere GM Jeremy Edwards said.
"The big thing for us is player welfare so we have been working through that with the RLPA to make sure the NRL clubs know where their players are, what they are doing, what their responsibilities are, where they are staying, what flights they are on and all of those things."
Newton said standards have been introduced for the minimum number and qualifications of high performance staff with each team, while the RLPA has worked to ensure players are fully insured and their NRL contracts are protected.
"We all want to grow the game and the best way to do that is to ensure it is elevated to a position that demonstrates a level of professionalism that gives people a greater level of comfort around playing international football," Newton said.
“We want to move as far away as possible from the old thinking that unless you play for England, New Zealand or Australia it is not considered with the same level of respect."
Nations still have the option to pay players on top of the participation payments they receive from tournament organisers.
The need for Nines
To grow the international game, the RLIF needs to generate revenue but the global body's main source of income is the World Cup every four years.
The establishment of the World Cup 9s is intended to provide another vehicle for the RLIF to generate money to fund development of the game.
It has been proposed that the World Cup Nines will also be held every four years in between World Cups, with the next tournament to be played in 2023.
As a new event controlled by the RLIF, the World Cup Nines would not fall under broadcast agreements negotiated by the NRL or Britain’s Rugby Football League and the rights can, therefore, be sold separately.
This would be similar to what occurred at the 2017 World Cup, which was broadcast by Channel Seven, whereas Channel Nine had the free-to-air rights to NRL matches, State of Origin and Tests involving Australia outside of the tournament.
For ticket and travel packages for the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s Sydney 2019, head to nrl.com/tickets.