This week is crunch time when it comes to the NRL Women’s premiership.
Earlier this month it was announced that the competition would be expanded from four teams to six in 2021.
While the New Zealand Warriors opted not to field a team this year, the Parramatta Eels, Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans are entering the competition to join the Brisbane Broncos, St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters, creating greater opportunity for women to play in this exciting competition.
The news of expansion was welcome. For the first three years of the NRLW, the competition has remained in the same format and left fans wanting more.
But, given the announcement about expansion was only made earlier this month and with pre-season only a couple of weeks away, the new teams have a very short window to sign players and get their program up and running.
As a result there have been challenges, mostly in relation to talent equalistion.
The initial proposal to help spread out the talent was for the NRL to offer central contracts to the top-24 players, with four players to go to each of the six clubs.
Some agreed to shift for the ‘good of the game’. Others are reluctant.
Those who knock back the NRL’s preferred destination for them forgo the money offered under the central contract and then are given the chance to negotiate with other teams.
Talent equalisation is important, but I would like to understand why the NRL decided to go with this model.
Perhaps they thought it would be successful because of conversations they had had with the players in the past? Perhaps an agreement was never reached about the best approach? Perhaps some players indicated they would be willing to move and then changed their minds?
There is a role for the Rugby League Players’ Association in this, with a movement toward a collective bargaining agreement to give additional certainty.
Other models are available, potentially what may have worked is each of the original clubs nominating the players they were unwilling to let depart?
I also wonder where this proposed approach leads to in the future.
Next year, there is already conversation about adding another two teams to the competition. Will talent need to be redistributed then?
Would the same approach be taken in the men’s game? While I note that this week the tune has changed from a completely new expansion club to moving an existing club up to Brisbane, if a new club was brought into the NRL competition, would we ask Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic and Junior Paulo to move there?
Even distribution of talent and the goal of mechanisms like a salary cap are important, players should have the opportunity to play where they would like.
The other challenge is how little notice players have had about the expansion and about leaving one team to join another.
Some would surely have been more open to the move had they had more than a month’s notice.
It is a big ask for a player to change teams in such a short amount of time, particularly if that player has a strong affinity with the club she has been playing for.
So where are we right now?
As it stands, the Gold Coast have announced their marquee signings: Karina Brown, Georgia Hale, Tazmin Gray, Crystal Tamarua and Brittany Breayley-Nati.
Unsurprisingly, no Brisbane Broncos have made the shift, with Millie Boyle, Ali Brigginshaw, Tarryn Aiken, Tamika Upton and Amber Hall all returning for the premiers.
Newcastle are apparently having challenges attracting marquee players and Parramatta are set to make some announcements this week.
I’d also like to address some comments that Peter V’landys made in the media last week about this subject.
“What we’re asking respectfully is to look at the big picture,” the ARLC chair told AAP.
“If you believe in the women’s game, look at the big picture and make a sacrifice.”
These comments really struck a nerve with me.
We are dealing with part-time athletes, who are in many cases juggling their elite sporting careers with family commitments, studies and jobs.
Many are unable to work full-time because of the flexibility required to play elite rugby league.
Women are already making big sacrifices to play the game they love. The women playing now also follow in the footsteps of giants like Katrina Fanning, Tarsha Gale and Karyn Murphy, who made even greater sacrifices just to play footy.
How much more do our female athletes need to sacrifice before it is enough?