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Jillaroos prop Millie Boyle is likely to be offered the opportunity to return home and help lead a foundation Raiders team if the club secures a 2023 NRLW licence.

Raiders CEO Don Furner and director Katrina Fanning, who played 26 Tests and is regarded as a Jillaroos’ trailblazer, launched Canberra’s bid to join an expanded NRLW competition on Monday and said they wanted the region's players to play at the highest level without having to move.

Boyle is from Cobargo on the NSW South Coast and has links to the Raiders through her father David and uncle Jason Croker, but the NSW Origin star and former ACT Brumbies rugby union representative has played for the Brisbane Broncos since the first NRLW season in 2018.

Furner nominated Boyle as a player the Raiders believed would help ensure their NRLW team, which will mostly comprise of young talent developed through the club’s Tarsha Gale Cup or Katrina Fanning Shield pathways, was competitive.

“Recruiting a Millie Boyle would be like recruiting a Mal Meninga,” Furner said. “They attract other players, and you need that to get started.

“We want to be competitive. Finance-wise we will be fine, facilities-wise we will be fine, so we just need to start looking now at recruiting some talent.”

Jillaroos forward Milie Boyle.
Jillaroos forward Milie Boyle. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Yasmin Meakes (Roosters) and Samantha Economos [Warriors] played in the Canberra Region Katrina Fanning Shield competition but had to move to play NRLW.

The Raiders will submit their application to play in the 2023 Telstra NRL Women’s Premiership early next year, but Furner is extremely confident that the club will be accepted.

Canberra has a new Centre of Excellence and the club is financially strong, with Furner believing that the cost of running an NRLW team – estimated to be $750,000 per season – would be covered through the NRL’s grant, sponsorship and government funding.

As the nation’s capital, Canberra offers strong employment prospects, the chance to study at ANU and cheaper accommodation than Sydney, which Furner said would all be used as lures to attract star players.

“We obviously have to put the bid in, but it would be unusual for us not to get accepted,” Furner said.

“We have got the facilities, we have got the junior registration numbers, we have got the finances and they want a regional team. We are perfectly positioned to fulfil that catchment area of NSW country so I couldn’t imagine we wouldn’t be getting a licence.

“We have been very lucky in Canberra with our financial support. Our sponsors have been fantastic, and we will be looking for another sponsor for that team. It is a great opportunity to get your name behind a team that is starting up. It was the same for the Raiders 40 years ago.”

An unreal year for Women's rugby league awaits

The admission of the Raiders to the then NSWRL competition in 1982 provided an opportunity for the likes of Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Bradley Clyde to represent their local region and Fanning said it was important Canberra was part of the growth of the NRLW.

“We have got 12 months of elite competitions [in 2022], starting with All Stars and right through to the World Cup, two lots of NRLW and a State of Origin so for our most elite players it is probably their first full year of being able to play back-to-back top level games,” Fanning said.

“It also means that for growing regions like ours, we need to make this investment now to make sure we don’t get left behind and that the talent that exists here gets the opportunity to stay at home and play in all those elite pathways.

Makayla Morris, who has moved from Narooma to play in Canberra’s Tarsha Gale Cup team, said the introduction of a Raiders’ NRLW team would provide young players with added motivation.

Front-rowers in open space alert!

“Making the sacrifice to move to Canberra when I was 17 and knowing that the pathway is growing now even more is just so exciting,” Morris said.

“Down the coast there isn’t much league at all, and I had to grow up playing league tag because we had to stop when we were 12. Growing up and seeing the men play I always wanted to be like that and now that the women are able to do that, it just makes my drive even stronger to keep going.”