Kick-off in the NRL Telstra Women's Premiership has been delayed until October due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the six-week competition to be held as a standalone event.
The NRL held discussions with the six participating clubs and key stakeholders this week and resolved to push ahead with the competition but it would need to be delayed due to the uncertainty created by the lockdown restrictions in NSW.
It is the first time the women's elite competition will be played as a standalone event after most matches acted as double-headers in line with the men's finals series in the previous three seasons.
The fourth edition of the NRLW is expected to get underway in the first weekend of October – in line with the men's NRL Telstra Premiership grand final – with a triple-header likely to take place at a selected venue.
The competition will run for six weeks with teams playing each other once before the top two sides advance to play for the premiership in a standalone NRLW grand final on the first weekend in November.
Specific dates and venues are expected to be confirmed closer to competition kick-off with the NRL monitoring the fluid COVID-19 situation across Australia.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the decision to delay the season was in the best interests of the players.
"We are absolutely committed to the new six-team competition being played in 2021. The worsening COVID outbreak in NSW provides additional challenges to the NRLW because most of our players also have employment and other commitments outside of rugby league," he said.
"We want players to have the opportunity to play NRLW without impacting their normal lives. By delaying kick-off until October it provides the best opportunity for a normal season."
Abdo said the game was planning a blockbuster start to the NRLW season.
"We’re excited to kick off in grand final week. It’s our biggest week of the year and it will be fitting that the NRLW will be an important component of the week.
"All eyes will be on the women’s competition in October and that’s a great outcome as we look to grow the competition.
"I want to thank the players, participating clubs and the RLPA for their contribution in reaching an outcome that is in the best interests of the players and the game more broadly."
The NRLW has expanded to six teams with the Titans, Knights and Eels joining foundation clubs Brisbane, St George Illawarra and the Roosters.
All six squads will be able to begin training on August 30 with a four-week pre-season before another week's preparation leading into their opening-round clashes.
Clubs are already halfway through their recruitment drives but remaining announcements have been on hold until players' availability in October is confirmed.
The postponement of the competition is set to become a misfortune for some and an advantage for others.
Newcastle, who were expected to field at least eight players from New Zealand, are working through what this delay means for their Kiwi contingent as players may not be able to commit to remaining in Australia for an additional two months.
Likewise, players who are battling injuries will have extra time to make themselves available for securing NRLW contracts with rosters spots still available across all six teams.
Elsewhere, the competition's later start date is likely to come with a further advantage for Olympic rugby sevens stars to feature in the NRLW again this year.
The women's rugby sevens tournament kicked off in Tokyo on Thursday and will wrap with a gold medal final match on Sunday before all nations return to their countries for a 14-day quarantine period.
The original start date of mid-August would've left it tight for any rugby sevens players to join their NRLW teammates for training in the lead-up to round one but those athletes now have additional time to settle into a club.
The Titans have already been linked to former Warrior Evania Pelite while it's understood several clubs have kept spots on their rosters for any other cross-code talent willing to play in the competition.
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