NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is "100 percent" confident the quality of the NRL Telstra Women's Premiership will be on show after announcing an expansion of the elite competition on Friday.
Newcastle, Parramatta and Gold Coast will enter the NRLW in 2021 with a five-round and finals series scheduled to begin in August and run in line with the men's NRL Telstra Premiership from round 23.
It is the first time expansion has occurred in the NRLW since its arrival in 2018 with the confirmation providing clarity for players and staff leading into Ampol Women's State of Origin after months of speculation.
"Women's rugby league is the fastest-growing part of our sport and it's exciting to be in a position to expand the competition after the success of the last three seasons," Abdo said.
"The NRLW competition has produced some of the best athletes in Australia, it's captivated a new fanbase and today's expansion will give more players the opportunity to play in an elite competition."
Knights join the NRLW
The new NRLW clubs will join inaugural teams, three-time champions Brisbane, St George Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters.
The Warriors, who rallied to field a team last season despite the implications of COVID-19, have pulled out of the competition after three years of involvement.
It is hoped they can return in 2022, where the NRL hopes to further expand to eight NRLW teams.
"The Warriors were part of the first four clubs to join the NRLW competition and we are grateful for the commitment they made right from the start, particularly during the pandemic last year," Abdo said.
Roommates turned enemies
"It's been an incredibly challenging period for the club during COVID and I'm confident we will see the Warriors return to the competition in 2022 as part of our expansion plans."
Warriors CEO Cameron George said while the club "reluctantly" withdrew their place in the NRLW, they'll continue to support players in New Zealand.
"We need to see significant investment in the pathways and development of the women's game in our country," George said.
"As it stands, we are a long way behind what we see in Australia. They have a very strong structure built on competitions, representative fixtures and a huge commitment to development."
The new-look competition is expected to include talent equalisation across all 24-player squads, enabling new clubs to be able to recruit top-tier players in the game despite their current allegiances.
That predicament may not bode well for the Broncos, who have the Titans to fend off as they look to keep their premiership-winning side together.
The expansion process will require squad sizes to be increased from 22 players in previous years to 24 at each club, and overall players increase from 88 to 144.
"We're working with the players and the clubs around the contracting system," Abdo said.
"There will be a central contracting system and a free agency model. We're working on the draw and the slots around that, with both broadcasters.
"We'll be in a position over the next couple of weeks to announce the final squads once the contracting model is complete."
The NRLW has recorded an average of over 40 percent turnover of players each year since 2018 but Abdo believed the talent was there to fill six teams in Australia.
"I'm 100 percent confident [the quality is there]," Abdo said.
"We've seen two incredible state competitions in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership and BHP Premiership, which has helped develop talent.
"We've had three years of NRLW where the standard on the field has been exceptional.
"The time is now absolutely right for us to expand. It's only strengthening from this point.
The NRLW competition has produced some of the best athletes in AustraliaNRL CEO Andrew Abdo
The Titans have reportedly been linked to former Roosters NRLW coach Jamie Feeney to help get the franchise up and running, however, no announcement has been made.
Feeney's involvement with the Titans is a wise investment after he turned the Roosters from cellar dwellers into grand finalists and also for his general knowledge of the women's game.
"Entry to the NRLW has been a key aspiration of the club for a number of years with the region being one of the strongest nurseries of elite female rugby league player talent in the country," Titans CEO Steve Mitchell said.
"We want to ensure that the best of our young local talent have a direct pathway to the national stage.
"Now, with this announcement, you can graduate from the Titans school league, into our junior Titans system and progress into NRLW."
Newcastle will be coached by retired Knights playmaker Blake Green, who has previously worked in a mentor capacity with the New Zealand Kiwi Ferns while at the Warriors.
"We've got a huge catchment area in northern NSW and up until recently if a young girl wanted to have a career in rugby league there were no pathways for them," Knights CEO Phil Gardiner said.
"We're creating one for them. We'll have a team in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership next season to go with the Tarsha Gale Cup.
"Any girl can now aspire to become a Jillaroo by coming through our system. It's really important we have equal opportunities for males and females at our club.
"It's only going to make our club and game stronger."
The Eels confirmed former player Dean Widders will take charge of the NRLW side with former NSW coach Andy Patmore overseeing the program.
"We identified an NRLW team as a priority to ensure that our development club philosophy could be extended to our female pathways players," Eels CEO Jim Sarantinos said.
"We want to inspire all females to play rugby league, and we can now give them the opportunity to play at an elite level in a national competition."
Women’s Origin tickets are on sale via NRL Tickets. Supporters can watch the historic match from just $5 for juniors, $15 for adults and $35 for families