The NRL women’s comp announcement brought me to tears

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    On December 6, 2017, the National Rugby League changed forever – and for the better – with a historic announcement regarding changes to the elite women’s program.

    Led by Yvonne Sampson, the announcement was made by John Grant and Todd Greenberg, while Ruan Sims and Corban McGregor were also present.

    Let’s begin with the most exciting part of the announcement: next year will see the launch of the NRL Women’s Premiership, to be played in the lead up to and during the NRL finals.

    It is extremely difficult for me to put into words how much this means to me – I cried listening to Greenberg speak.

    I cried for women like Karyn Murphy, Kasey Badger and Katrina Fanning, who never got their opportunity to play professional rugby league.

    I cried for women like Ruan Sims, who has waited her entire career for this opportunity.

    But most of all, I cried for the next generation, who I don’t know yet, but who will get their opportunity going forward.

    This competition – following the lead of other major sports in this country like cricket and AFL – will see the women’s game properly resourced, readily accessible, and appropriately promoted.

    It will also ensure that young women who are dreaming about a career in professional rugby league can live their reality.

    It’s unclear which teams will compete, but Greenberg indicated that NRL clubs would all have the opportunity to put in bids and that, at this stage, it would be a six-team comp.

    Almost every club in the NRL appears interested, but some in particular have signalled their intention to be leaders in the women’s game.

    The Cronulla Sharks were the first club to offer contracts to female players (Ruan Sims in 2016), clubs like the St George Illawarra Dragons already have Jillaroos like Kezie Apps involved as ambassadors, and Newcastle has a very strong local competition, featuring players like Caitlin Moran, Rebecca Young and Isabelle Kelly.

    If at least one club from Queensland is included and a team is included from New Zealand, it leaves little space for further representation from New South Wales.

    I’m looking forward to additional details on the bid process and how talent will be evenly distributed.

    But this is not the only change to celebrate.

    The Interstate Challenge is no longer and will be replaced with a State of Origin match between New South Wales and Queensland to be played on the stand-alone representative weekend.

    The Jillaroos will also have additional opportunities to play representative football, with Test matches in the Pacific and New Zealand. Not only is this positive for Australian women, it also allows countries like New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (fan favourites at the Women’s Rugby League World Cup) to participate too.

    The NRL also announced that next year we will have 40 contracted Jillaroos players.

    This is a fitting reward for the women who represented Australia so passionately and were crowned champions at the World Cup on the weekend, following their 23-16 win over the Kiwi Ferns.

    Giving these women the opportunity to take their game to the next level by making them professional will ensure that the elite program continues to be recognised as the best in the world.

    To break this down, this means that from 2018, the female pathway will be well established. Women will have the opportunity to play grassroots junior league, then move into state competitions, then premiership matches, and potentially representative honours through State of Origin and the Jillaroos.

    In the next few years we will see women coming through who have played from age six, all the way through to the NRL. I can’t wait for this day.

    Jillaroos

    To every woman who has played rugby league – thank you. We made it.

    To the media, advocates and fans who have celebrated, reported on and promoted the women’s game – thank you for continuing to push for this to happen and for your ongoing support.

    To Harvey Norman and in particular, Katie Page and Steph Crockford, who have been the most staunch of supporters for women in sport, but particularly for women in rugby league – thank you for your continued commitment.

    I also want to thank the NRL for their leadership and commitment.

    The women’s game is the fastest growing participation space in rugby league, having grown 32 per cent in the last year alone. Wednesday’s announcement will see this participation figure skyrocket in the years to come.

    But what about us as fans? So many have been demanding a women’s competition – now we’ve got it and we have a responsibility too.

    We have a responsibility to celebrate the clubs and women competing. We have a responsibility to get our bums onto seats next year and to watch these women play. But most of all, we have a responsibility to make sure that the NRL recognises how much interest there is in this competition and understand their important obligation to make this a sustainable, exciting product.

    With women like Ruan Sims, Kezie Apps, Maddie Studdon and Talesha Quinn involved, I have no doubt that it will be a tremendous success.

    On Wednesday, the NRL sent a powerful message of diversity and inclusion. It said to all the women and girls out there that there is a place for them in the rugby league family, and that they can aspire to play professional rugby league.

    The future has arrived and I’m ready to embrace it with open arms.

    In 2017 history was announced. In 2018 we will watch history happen.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (70)

    • December 7th 2017 @ 6:02am
      Justin Kearney said | December 7th 2017 @ 6:02am | ! Report

      Its great news Mary. You can take a lot of credit for this. Well done. I will be really disapppointed if Melbourne doesnt get a team but lets wait and see.

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 9:00am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        That’s really kind Justin – thank you.

        The team question is a very hard one – if we have a team from QLD, Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and the Warriors there isn’t much space left for an additional NSW or QLD team.

        I hope the clubs take the bid process very seriously and that there are very strict criteria. The hope would be that it goes well next year and we can gradually begin increasing after that.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 9:09am
          Perry Bridge said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

          Wouldn’t the Melbourne team be like the Netball Storm and be based in QLD?

          • Columnist

            December 7th 2017 @ 9:12am
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

            So many questions, Perry. I wish I had the answers. But that’s a good point.

            The other point that we need to think about is that I think one QLD team would only work if there is a draft system in place (otherwise the QLD team will essentially be the QLD SOO team).

            • December 7th 2017 @ 11:21am
              jason hutton said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

              I think Brisbane,north qld and png shud all have womens 1st grade sides

              • Columnist

                December 7th 2017 @ 11:55am
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

                Then that only leaves 3 teams for the rest of the world!

      • December 7th 2017 @ 11:19am
        jason hutton said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        I think 15 teams including Melbourne,canberra,south Sydney,sydney,penrith,canberra,mounties,wests,brisbane,north qld,png,nz,st George and cronulla shud all get womens 1st grade sides the games very popular now with women which is great to know 🙂

    • December 7th 2017 @ 6:40am
      Oto shark said | December 7th 2017 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      Great for the game. My daughter wants to play for the sharks, now she can in an NRL comp. Teams in Sydney might have to merge, since they only want up to 6 teams.

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 9:01am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        She is the future that I am talking about, Oto Shark. Just brilliant.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:05am
      Gurudoright said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      This is great news, and well done to everyone that has worked so hard to get this up and running. My prediction on the six “original” teams ( no doubt it will expand in a short number of years). Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Cronulla, St. George Illawarra, Penrith or Parramatta

      • Roar Pro

        December 7th 2017 @ 7:26am
        QConners said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        I think you’ve picked the sides well. And given Penrith’s financial state at the moment, I think they’d love to have a women’s side and jump at the chance to have one. It’d be nice to have a Warriors team, but I don’t think they’re ready just yet as a club. Melbourne is also a definite if it is to combat the AFLW.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 9:11am
          Perry Bridge said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

          #QConners

          A Melbourne side isn’t going to combat the AFLW – that’s fanciful. What you are really combatting is that great Olympic sport of Rugby7s.

          • December 7th 2017 @ 9:49am
            Justin Kearney said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

            It shouldn’t be about combating other sports anyway. There should be an womens team in melbourne because it is our second largest city, has a good womens comp already and will help build the profile of league more generally there across all genders.

          • Columnist

            December 7th 2017 @ 11:14am
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

            I don’t think it’s about combating other sports, rather just give women the opportunities to play the sport that they love.

            • December 7th 2017 @ 1:34pm
              Mosquito said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

              They could play the RL game before and is this risks lowering it confected sides playing at the same time as the men. And the only reason they had 1 professional RL player before was to stop her going to the wallaroos where she had played before.

              • Columnist

                December 7th 2017 @ 3:02pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

                Are you talking about Ru? Because there is more than one contracted NRL women’s player.

              • December 8th 2017 @ 12:57pm
                Mosquito said | December 8th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                There was only one last year with Cronulla – headlined when she signed…wasn’t that bizarre to you?

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 11:13am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Guru, you’ve done well with the teams because it is so hard to narrow down. I struggle with the thought of only one team from QLD though!

    • Columnist

      December 7th 2017 @ 7:30am
      Ryan O'Connell said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      Amazing, just amazing. I wouldn’t undersell your role in making this happen, Mary. You must be very proud.

      (And just think, we may get another Parra Eels team to break your heart! Haha!)

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:54am
      BA Sports said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      It certainly is positive news and the NRL appears to be taking all the right steps.

      It is interesting, strategically, that the inaugural six team competition will be played at the back end of the male NRL season, which is a different strategy to the AFL who played their league in the preseason of the male AFL season.

      I also hope (maybe it was part of the announcement, i didn’t see it), that the games will be on FTA and Fox, not just Fox. Not many young females have Fox Sports subscriptions, and we want them to have access to it – even if it is the below par Ch 9 coverage).

      • December 7th 2017 @ 9:27am
        Perry Bridge said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        #BA Sports

        I was pondering this. The obvious concern will be that it all gets obscured by the high amount of sports white noise around that time.

        The AFLW had a lot of feel good factor and came in as a bit of a domestic women’s sports positive ‘disruptor’. I’m not sure re RL – the touch football numbers probably indicate there’ll be good numbers.

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 11:53am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        I’m really glad they have decided to wait. With the announcement happening now, I feel like their only option was to place it at that point of the season or wait till 2019.

        Hopefully doing this means that people get out to games a bit earlier to support the women’s comp.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 8:05am
      Jimmmy said | December 7th 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      I am especially pleased for Ruanne Simms . What a dedicated, articulate athlete she is . Couldn’t be more pleased for the ‘women who league’.

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 1:19pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

        Ruey has waited for this for so long – I could not be happier for her. She is such a wonderful advocate for our game.

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