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Not expendable: NRL's strong message on women's sport

Confirmation the NRLW will go ahead in 2020 sends the message that women's sport is not expendable and is worth investing in.

You can imagine my happiness on Tuesday night when my social media feed lit up with fans, administrators and players celebrating the news the women's premiership would return.

As I scrolled through posts of Kezie Apps, Ali Brigginshaw, Corban McGregor and Meg Ward sharing their excitement about getting out on the field, I had feeling of both joy and overwhelming relief.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that most sports and industries have faced very real financial pressures.

The NRL and the clubs have not been exempt from this. Earlier in the year, there was some speculation about whether the NRLW would go ahead.

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The statement by the ARLC on Tuesday signalling its intent to help fund the competition demonstrates rugby league's commitment to the women's game and shows that the women's game is a key part of rugby league's future.

This is a message that all sports should commit to. Even though there remains a lot of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the future is brighter when there is a place for everyone to participate in our sports.

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What we know is that the competition will run in the same format as last year. The Broncos, Dragons, Roosters and Warriors will field teams and the competition will run alongside the men's finals, most likely in a double-header format.

In March I attended the T20 Women's World Cup Final between Australia and India at the MCG. On International Women's Day, 86,174 fans set a world record for attendance at a women's cricket match and a record for attendance at a women's sporting event in Australia.

On that day, there was a sense that this could be the start of a new normal and recognition of what could be achieved when women's sport has appropriate investment and is taken.

Build it and they will come.

Despite the events of the last couple of months, this is a message worth remembering. This is not the time to be reducing funding, cutting teams or giving women less opportunity to participate.

This is our opportunity to recommit and make sure that women's competitions are given the chance to thrive.

I know there will be some who still want more for the women's game in this country. I do.

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred, I am confident that we would have seen the competition expand to two rounds of regular season games this year.

Last year, there was also discussion around the next group of clubs to field teams.

The Eels, Raiders and Knights all demonstrated interest and my understanding is that an announcement about which teams would be granted entry into the competition from 2021 and onwards was imminent just before the coronavirus changed the world.

The pandemic will mean our plans to be bigger and better need to wait another year. That's OK.

This year's NRLW will give fans an opportunity to continue to support the women's game and demonstrate how important it is to us. When the time is right, that means turning up and tuning in to games, purchasing memberships and getting behind the four teams participating in the competition this year.

And if last year was anything to go by, Broncos and Dragons fans might have something to cheer for in 2020 after all.