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Titans to the fore as interest in NRLW expansion abounds

The Titans want to enter the Telstra Women's Premiership and have put their case to the NRL to become the next Queensland team in an expanded competition.

After running a successful four-team competition for the past three seasons, the NRL is set to begin assessing whether more clubs are ready to join the NRLW in 2021 and beyond.

With Brisbane last month claiming their third NRLW premiership in as many years and the high levels of interest in Friday night's State of Origin at Sunshine Coast Stadium, south-east Queensland is an obvious area for expansion, along with western Sydney.

Newcastle and Canberra also have strong playing numbers, with the Knights and Raiders are among clubs to have expressed an interest in fielding an NRLW team.

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The Sunshine Coast Falcons, who have an association with Melbourne Storm, are also keen and view the establishment of an NRLW team as a step towards an eventual place in the NRL.

Redcliffe Dolphins are another club with NRL ambitions and would consider a women's team if they were to win the race to become the Telstra Premiership's 17th franchise in 2022 or 2023.

Of the western Sydney clubs, Canterbury, Parramatta and Wests Tigers have confirmed their interest. The Bulldogs and Tigers fielded teams in this year's Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership, while the Eels are aligned with Wentworthville, Cabramatta and Mounties.

A $50,000 licence fee and other costs associated with fielding an NRLW team have deterred clubs from wanting to join the competition but the NRL provided funding this year to assist the Broncos, Dragons, Roosters and Warriors.

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However, maintaining a geographic spread remains a focus of the NRL's expansion strategy and there could be a similar number of teams in south-east Queensland as there in Sydney given female participation numbers are comparable.    

Titans CEO Steve Mitchell said the club was working towards the establishment of an NRLW team to cater for the volume of women and girls who play the game on the Gold Coast.

"The Titans have an absolute appetite and genuine interest in establishing an NRLW side in the near future," Mitchell said.

"A business case has been developed and shared with the NRL, the response to this was overwhelmingly positive.  The challenge for the organisation in the short term is to overcome the commercial imperatives.

"An NRLW side comes with genuine resourcing and facility requirements, most of which are achievable but require a need for investment. 

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"From a playing roster point of view, the Gold Coast is blessed with a rich amount of talent from the northern rivers to Logan.

"The Titans are actively involved in building female participation through the Karen Murphy Cup which is underwritten and administered by the Titans.  This is the largest female school-based competition in the country."

Runs on the board

The Titans hosted a combine last year, which attracted interest from 250 players, and selected two teams to play at Cbus Stadium – many of whom were recruited to NRLW squads this season.

Eels officials were also overwhelmed by the turn-out for their recent Tarsha Gale Cup under 18s trials and are planning for a future NRLW team.

Parramatta's new training complex at Kellyville will have dedicated high-performance facilities for the club's junior and senior female programs and the Eels are hoping to play NRLW matches at the 5,000 capacity venue when Bankwest Stadium is unavailable.

Female participation numbers in Parramatta and the Hills District are booming, with the Toongabbie Tigers laying claim to being the fastest growing women's club in Australia.

Wests Tigers are also experiencing significant growth and the club has produced two NSW Origin players – Botille Vette-Welsh and Filomina Hanisi – since establishing a Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership team last year.

The next step for the Tigers is to enter the NRLW competition.

"We have submitted a formal expression of interest for 2023," Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis said.

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Canterbury CEO Andrew Hill confirmed the Bulldogs were also interested in fielding an NRLW team, while Penrith GM of football Matt Cameron said the Panthers wanted to see how the competition develops in coming years.

Canberra CEO Don Furner said the Raiders remained keen but believes there should be financial incentives for clubs to enter an NRLW team.

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Whichever way the NRLW evolves it is unlikely to mirror the Telstra Premiership, which has nine Sydney teams, including St George Illawarra, and clubs outside the NRL have also expressed interest.

The Sunshine Coast Falcons are a feeder team for the Storm, who are partners in the Sunshine Coast Lightning Super Netball franchise, and a similar model could lead to the establishment of an NRLW team.

Falcons CEO Chris Flannery said the club was establishing an under 19s women's team with the intention of entering an open age team in the QRL's BHP Premiership from 2022 and eventually the NRLW competition.

"We would like to have an NRL team here one day but we are probably more chance of getting an NRLW team off the ground before we get a men's team so we are going to go down that track," Flannery said.

"We are doing some feasibility studies to see if it is viable and hopefully we can get the Storm and the Sunshine Coast Council on board.

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"We have great some facilities here on the Sunshine Coast and we have the Lightning netball team, who have been really successful, who have a partnership with the Storm and the Sunshine Coast Council.

"Having the women's State of Origin game here has bought out a lot of interest in the community and the schools with young girls and hopefully they will have aspirations of one day playing for Queensland themselves."

Redcliffe CEO Bob Jones said the Dolphins were also interested in an NRLW team.

"Our intention is to grow our game at all levels, which means we would be looking to participate at the highest level we can in all forms of rugby league," Jones said.