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After once being forced to give up her job to play State of Origin, Maddie Studdon has welcomed the opportunity for NRLW stars to become full time under a new salary cap model set to coincide with an expanded competition.

The Telstra NRL Women’s Premiership will be increased to eight teams in 2023 and 10 teams in 2024, but players are set to benefit immediately from a 28% boost in salaries and the ability of existing clubs to each sign two marquee players.

With Origin payments also set to increase from $4,000 to $6,000 this year and the concept to expand to a two-match series in 2023, the game’s elite female players are likely to earn about $60,000, while those on marquee deals will be paid more.

It’s a far cry from four years ago, before the establishment of the NRLW in 2018, when Studdon was forced to choose between her job and captaining NSW to victory in the inaugural women’s State of Origin at North Sydney Oval.

Maddie Studdon led NSW to 2018 State of Origin win
Maddie Studdon led NSW to 2018 State of Origin win ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“Just to have that security is really good,” said Studdon, the Eels halfback in the 2021 NRLW.

“If we can become full-time athletes, that is what we have always wanted and us women deserve that, so it is good to see the game is going in the right direction.

“Obviously, a lot of the girls have part time jobs and some of them are mothers, as well, so it can be very stressful at times, but we are very grateful that the game is getting behind us and supporting us to become full time athletes.”

Dragons and Blues hooker Quincy Dodd added: “It is something that makes us feel a bit safer now, knowing that we have that income. It is exciting that the game is growing and growing".

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the six clubs in the 2022 NRLW would be able to start making offers to players within days and while they can only table one-year deals that restriction will change once a decision is made on the two new teams for 2023.

The Cowboys, Raiders and Rabbitohs immediately announced their intention to submit applications to enter the expanded 2023 NRLW and the two clubs are early favourites, along with the Warriors if the New Zealand-based team wants to re-join the competition.

With significant pools of player talent in Queensland and New Zealand it is unlikely that a fourth Sydney team would be introduced before the competition expands to 10 teams in 2024.

In the longer term, the Storm and Dolphins would appear to be logical candidates to host an NRLW team as Abdo said the ARLC would continue to be strategic about the admission of new clubs.

“You want to think about the criteria very carefully and geography is a big part of that, but also existing pathways and existing talent,” Abdo said. “Which clubs are going to invest all the way down to grassroots will be a key consideration, among many others.

“There is nothing stopping us thinking differently about where women’s clubs may be situated beyond an NRL club licence.

“In 2018, when the NRLW first started, we had 10,000 registered female participants across the country and that is now going to be close to 40,000 at the end of this year. Can we get to 80,000 in three years, and can we grow even faster?

“The women’s game has been played for a number of decades by unbelievable women who set the platform for where we are today, but it’s truly only been in a semi-professional sense since 2018, so if we can grow this far in this short period of time it is pretty exciting where we can get to.”

Dragons hooker Quincy Dodd
Dragons hooker Quincy Dodd

With a salary cap of $350,000, plus two marquee players who can be offered fulltime jobs outside the cap, contracts for leading players in the 2022 NRLW are expected to be worth about $35,000, plus representative payments.

Marquee players can sign multi-year employment deals to enable clubs to help them with career development, and from next year there will be limit on the term of playing contracts.

The Raiders have already indicated that Broncos prop Millie Boyle will be their No.1 target if they secure an NRLW licence for 2023, while the Cowboys would be expected to try to lure Knights fullback Romy Teitzel home.

Millie Boyle will be a target for a marquee player contract
Millie Boyle will be a target for a marquee player contract ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The introduction of the $350,000 salary cap and marquee player rule is also likely to make it harder for the unbeaten Broncos, who have won all three previous NRLW competitions, to keep their squad together. 

“What we want to do with talent equalisation is not bring anyone down but rather bring everyone up and get everyone aspiring upwards," Abdo said.

“This is about investment now for returns later and ultimately what we are striving for is a stand alone competition that generates significant revenue which can then be re-invested in both rewarding the players but also providing even greater pathways for young players."

Abdo said the expanded 2023 competition would be played after the two-match Origin series, in which the losing state in this year's stand-alone clash in Canberra will need to win both games to claim the trophy.

Origin joy for the Maroons in 2021 at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Origin joy for the Maroons in 2021 at Sunshine Coast Stadium. ©NRL Photos

“The basic structure will be the State Cup competitions leading into Origin and then leading into an extended premiership, with home-and-away games and a finals series culminating with the grand final," he said.

"Then we can see both the Kangaroos and Jillaroos playing international football in October and November, as well."

Eventually, it is hoped to expand State of Origin to a three-match series. 

  

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