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The Broader Game: Wests Tigers outline future grand NRLW plans

Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis has outlined his plans to turn the club's women's program into a powerhouse with Jillaroos star Botille Vette-Welsh set to be the face of their big ambitions.

The joint venture entered the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership in 2019 and have been consistent performers in the competition, led by Vette-Welsh and Kiwi Ferns playmaker Raecene McGregor.

Converting the current HNWP team into an NRLW side is the next step for the club with Vette-Welsh and McGregor among the priority retention targets, if they were to gain a licence.

Hagipantelis said 2023 was shaping up as the most realistic timeframe for when they'd be ready to go but he would be guided by the ARL Commission on when the competition expanded.

Vette-Welsh has split her time between the Roosters and Dragons NRLW sides since the major competition started in 2018, while McGregor is a two-time premiership winner at the Broncos.

Having a Wests Tigers NRLW outfit of their own would mean both players could remain aligned with the one club throughout the year.

Vette-Welsh excited for new women's pathways program

"We absolutely want to build our club around them," Hagipantelis told NRL.com.

"Bo Vette-Welsh is one of those players, whether it be in the men or women's game, that draws you to watch rugby league.

"The way she leads that team around the park, you want to go and watch her specifically. I did exactly that when I attended Leichhardt Oval [a fortnight ago].

"The girls are absolutely outstanding ambassadors for the game and their skill level is second to none."

Hagipantelis has already shown he is willing to put his money where his mouth with the Brydens Lawyers principal, major sponsor of the club, already supporting the women's program in an agreement that looks set to continue into the future.

"We have invested heavily in the women's game and the fact that the women wear the Brydens Lawyers logo gives me immense personal pride and happiness," he said.

"I've got three daughters who grew up playing sport and have spent three quarters of my life travelling from sports fields every Saturday and during the week with training.

"I coached a girl's soccer team for a number of years so am well versed with not only the potential with women's sport but the challenges that are faced for a lot of female athletes.

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure than sponsoring a women's NRL team at the Wests Tigers."

Getting a jump on other NRL clubs and securing a side for western Sydney is also considered crucial for the chairman with an array of female talent playing at various feeder clubs.

"I have a very healthy relationship with Mounties as a sponsor and they have an incredibly strong women's program as well," Hagipantelis said.

"There are players in that team that I would have no hesitation in recruiting whatsoever and flexing my sponsorship muscle.

"I have no doubt an NRLW team from the Wests Tigers would be a powerhouse given the talent we could draw on."

Thurston name to continue?

Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston is keeping a close eye on the progress of North Queensland's women's programs with second daughter Charlie, 6, making a splash with the footy in her hand. 

"[Big sister] Frankie has got no interest in holding a footy, she just rolls her eyes," Thurston said this week, with his trademark laugh.

"But Charlie plays touch footy, Oztag and netball, so she's the sporty one."

Johnathan Thurston runs out for his farewell game in 2018 with his three daughters.
Johnathan Thurston runs out for his farewell game in 2018 with his three daughters. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Asked if there would be any objections with Charlie converting to the tackle aspect of the game in the next few years, Thurston laughed again.

"I don't, but Mum might," he said.

"She is still only six but there are a lot of pathways for the women starting up at the moment so by the time she's old enough the women's game will be well and truly entrenched."

North Queensland's BHP Premiership team, the Gold Stars, face the Tweed Seagulls in Townsville on Sunday.

Get in the game: Jessica Sergis

How can you be, what you can't see?

One in two girls drop out of sport from age 15 and for Dally M medal winner Jess Sergis, she was one who almost slipped away from rugby league's grasp.

"Seeing the arena and the boys run onto the field was something I really wanted to do but as a woman, I doubted myself," Sergis said, as part of her ambassador role with Cadbury.

"But with your mindset, you can turn your positive into a negative. If you love something you're not going to give up on it.

"A friend told me to get back into it and if it wasn't for my friend, I wouldn't be here."

Maynard back for Bears

North Sydney Bears hooker Nita Maynard will return to the field this weekend following her arrest at a Cronulla nightclub on April 2.

Maynard is scheduled to appear in Sutherland Local Court on May 13 after being charged with two counts of assault in an alleged incident that occurred during the side's bye weekend. 

The 28-year-old, who was contracted to the Roosters in the NRLW last year, will run out for the seventh-placed Bears when they host Helensburgh at North Sydney Oval on Sunday.

Roosters hooker Nita Maynard.
Roosters hooker Nita Maynard. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Storch's pregnancy return

Maroons representative Mariah Storch has returned to the field for Central Queensland Capras, an incredible 10 weeks after giving birth to her first child, Henley Grace.

Storch, 23, was part of the Broncos' first two premiership wins before pregnancy ruled her out of last year's title defence. 

The apprentice diesel fitter will be in action again for the Capras against ladder leaders Burleigh on Sunday. 

 
 
 
 
 
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RLPA women's group a step in right direction

Leading NRLW players have praised the direction in which the women's game is heading after the Rugby League Players' Association announced its first women's player advisory group.

Broncos forward Chelsea Lenarduzzi is among a 13-player group that also includes State of Origin captains Ali Brigginshaw, Kezie Apps, and Kiwi Ferns captain Krystal Rota.

Discussing potential changes to the upcoming NRLW competition and working towards securing their first collective bargaining agreement is also high on the agenda for the game's best players.

Maroons prop Chelsea Lenarduzzi.
Maroons prop Chelsea Lenarduzzi. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

"There is genuine care among the playing group and we will endeavour to grow the game at all levels, not just the elite," Lenarduzzi said.

"This group is an important step in the progression and development of the women's game.

"Having an official seat at the RLPA table will no doubt help us drive the game to new heights."

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.