When I started writing about rugby league my intention was to encourage women to get in conversations about the game and to support and promote those women who were visible to me.
Back then, for me, that included women who were fans, volunteers, administrators, and those in the media. I had no idea that women even played the game.
I was unaware that Australia had a national team called the Jillaroos. The significance of names like Tarsha Gale, Katrina Fanning and Karyn Murphy was lost on me.
I called myself a passionate rugby league fan but had no idea that the women’s game even existed.
That’s why today is so emotional for me.
Today it’s been announced that another three teams will be added to the Telstra Women’s Premiership in 2021; the Newcastle Knights, Gold Coast Titans and my team, the Parramatta Eels.
This is a Rivalry that knows no boundaries
Today means that I will have a women’s team to cheer on alongside my men’s team.
The inclusion of these three teams means a shake-up of the existing competition. Unfortunately, due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Warriors will no longer field a team.
The competition will now feature two teams from Queensland and four from New South Wales; with the NSW-based teams representing different parts of the state.
When you consider the talent that has come from NSW's South Coast including the likes of Samantha Bremner, Teagan Berry and Jessica Sergis it's clear how important a role the Dragons play in this competition in fostering and developing local talent.
I’m hoping the Newcastle Knights can play a similar role going forward. Plenty of talent has emerged from the upper Hunter in the past including Rebecca Young, Hannah Southwell and Caitlin Moran.
Now women from this area will have the chance to pull on the red and blue.
With the details about this year’s NRLW now settled, plenty of hard work is ahead.
For the new teams, this will involve building a roster and for most of the teams this will be from scratch.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of talent from the Warriors available, many of whom will be looking for a club to play for.
One such player is Georgia Hale who is currently playing for the North Sydney Bears in the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership.
Additionally, there is plenty of emerging talent in the Queensland and NSW state-based competitions with players like Renee Targett who has been selected to play for the NSW in State of Origin despite not having played in the NRLW.
Roommates turned enemies
With these three new clubs emerging, I have no doubt that there is going to be some player movement. The player signing period will be fun to follow.
The emergence of a second Queensland team may also mean some changes at the Broncos, potentially disrupting the dominance that team has demonstrated in the first three years of the competition.
One of the criticisms of the NRLW has that it has not grown fast enough. Some fans have looked to other women’s competitions like the AFLW and WBBL and questioned why the NRL has made a decision to grow at a slower pace.
While there is no exact formula for building a competition, one of the strengths of the measured approach has meant that the NRL has focused on ensuring a sustainable and marketable league.
It has also meant that the state-based women’s competitions have had time to grow, developing players that are now ready to take the step into the NRLW.
Another bonus has been that because the NRLW has, to date, only been four weeks it has always left fans wanting more. The player talent has not been questioned.
Rugby league heroes to be recognised in 2021 NRL Community Awards
While the introduction of three new teams may seem like a big leap forward, I’m confident that given the teams represent very different regions, that there will be enough talent to ensure that the competition remains exciting and competitive.
Then the next step will be to consider which teams will be next to join the competition and at what point.
On a personal level, I am still patiently waiting for that first elusive Parramatta premiership of my lifetime. The good news is that now I have two teams that can deliver that for me.
The even better news is that I now have a women’s team of my own to support. I can’t wait to be there in the stands when the Eels women’s team take the field for the first time later this year. I may even shed a tear.
We’ve certainly come a long way in a very short space of time.
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
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.