THE Newcastle Knights will bid for a team in the inaugural women’s NRL premiership that will be launched next season.
Up to six clubs will be granted franchises in the new elite women’s competition, which is expected to run from August until September and was described by NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg as the “first step” towards a 24-round, fully professional league to run in conjunction with the men’s.
Greenberg said the tendering process would be finalised by March and predicted there would be fierce competition for franchises.
Wests Group/Knights CEO Phil Gardner confirmed Newcastle hope to field a team that could potentially feature Jillaroos Caitlin Moran, Bec Young and Isabelle Kelly.
“We’ll put a tender in for a franchise and see where that ends up,” Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
“Obviously not all clubs can have one, but we think it’s a great concept and we want to be part of it. Hopefully, over time, every NRL club will have a women’s side.”
Under the proposal, 40 elite players would be offered central contracts on top of their match fees, and the NRL would try to ensure the talent was evenly shared.
Given that North Newcastle made the grand final of this year’s NSW women’s rugby league grand final, losing 26-16 to Redfern All Blacks, Gardner was hopeful of building a squad around home-grown players.
“Absolutely they will be considered, if they are at that standard,” Gardner said.
He was unsure how much it would cost to fund a women’s team.
“The same support mechanisms you need for a men’s side, you will need for the women as well,” he said.
“Training facilities, conditioners, coaches, doctors and all those things. So it won’t be a cheap exercise.
“And at this stage, nobody has seen the financial proposal from the NRL. Obviously there’s a fair bit of detail to be worked out.”
Moran and Kelly played in Australia’s 23-16 World Cup final triumph against New Zealand, while veteran Young was also in the Jillaroos squad.
Kelly scored two tries in the tournament decider and Moran, voted NSWRL player of the year, kicked a field goal at the death.
Rugby league is Australia’s last mainstream sport to announce an elite women's competition, following the likes of the AFL Women, W-League (soccer), Women’s Big Bash League (cricket) Super Netball and Women’s National Basketball League.
Greenberg described Wednesday’s announcement as “a momentous day for the game” but admitted launching the new competition would be a challenge.
“We've got to be very careful and prudent about how we put these systems in place because rugby league is a tough sport and we want to make sure we have all the care around our players and the physical training that's needed, the technique that's needed. We’re starting with one step at a time.”
Matches will be played alongside NRL play-off games, and the final will be played as a curtain-raiser to the men's grand final at ANZ Stadium on September 30.
The annual Queensland v NSW match, formerly known as the Women's Interstate Challenge, will be rebranded as State of Origin and will be played on the stand-alone representative weekend ahead of Origin II in July.
There will also be a national combine designed to attract and poach the best talent from other sports including Australian Rules, soccer, cricket, netball and rugby union.
"I dreamt about this," Jillaroos co-captain Ruan Sims said at Wednesday’s announcement.
"It's something that we've been discussing as more of a tangible opportunity in the last 12 months.
"I honestly thought it would be 2020 by the time we got there.
"These kinds of opportunities, it excites me so much.
"I just want to start training, I want to start playing."