One of the greatest careers in modern rugby league will come to a close at the end of the season, with Cooper Cronk yesterday announcing his retirement at the end of the season.
Women’s State of Origin may still be six weeks away, but that doesn’t meant that there isn’t plenty happening in the space at the moment, particularly in New South Wales.
NSWRL head of competitions Yvette Downey has seen the women’s space continue to expand at a rapid pace – in fact, so rapid that Yvette is convinced she can see growth every single day.
In NSW, there are now opportunities for girls to play rugby league from an under-6s level all the way to open women’s.
In some areas, female-specific competitions have even started developing. Penrith is proving to be an outstanding nursery, with female specific competitions for the under-6s, 8s, 10s and 12s age groups.
The Penrith Panthers have been one of the quieter clubs when it comes to expressing an interest in the NRL women’s premiership, but it’s exceptionally positive to see the wider Penrith region giving girls the chance to play footy and potentially give the Panthers the opportunity to be in a strong position when the next round of clubs are introduced into the NRLW.
Opportunities for girls to play footy are not just limited to the city, though.
In the country, girls currently have the opportunity to play tag and many country clubs hosted nines competitions during the pre-season, which were successful.
I attended one of these nines competitions in Albury last year and the general consensus is that these competitions continue to grow each year, both in interest and number of participants.
A couple of weeks ago, the first ever Female Country Championships were held, where eight regions fielded open women’s teams.
Back to the city, where the Tarsha Gale Cup concluded last weekend with the Illawarra Steelers defeating the Newcastle Knights 24-12 in the grand final.
Illawarra skipped out to a 10-nil early, and despite the Knights fighting back, the Steelers were always in control.
Two late tries to Illawarra’s Mikayla Kidd and Teagan Berry put the game well and truly out of reach for the Knights.
This competition is now in its third year and is named after legendary Australian Jillaroo and NSW representative Tarsha Gale.
Most importantly, this competition has become a genuine part of the rugby league pathway, with many players going on to compete in the NRLW.
The young women that play in this competition will have an additional opportunity to play footy this year and also to represent their state, with the NRL announcing that an under-18s State of Origin match will be held before the Women’s State of Origin at North Sydney Oval.
The NSW team for that under-18s game will be picked from the Tarsha Gale Cup and my tip is that you can expect some of the women from that grand final to feature, such as Maddison Weatherall and Caitlan Johnston.
In the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership, we are currently heading into Round 9 with Mounties, North Sydney and CRL Newcastle being the teams to beat.
Mounties and North Sydney sit at one and two on the ladder respectively, and both teams are undefeated in their first five games of the season.
It’s tricky to identify the most talented player in this comp, according to Yvette Downey, given how much talent there is.
NSWRL has three groups of players in its high performance program that come in to do extra work with the coaching staff, and this cohort just continues to expand.
There’s plenty more women’s rugby league to come as well, with some Women’s Premiership bye rounds coming up to accommodate the big ticket items approaching.
In the next few weeks, NSWRL will pick a City team and Country Rugby League will pick a Country team. These two sides will go to the NRL National Women’s Championships, which will be held on the Gold Coast on the last weekend in May and the first weekend in June.
This tournament, which NSW CRL won last year, will be a key driver for coaches in picking the State of Origin teams to play at North Sydney Oval in June, and will feature women from across the country.
So when it comes to women’s footy, there’s plenty to start getting excited about. Let the countdown to State of Origin begin.