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The NRL is set to expand the women’s State of Origin series to three games in 2024 while keeping the NRLW competition at 10 clubs for another year.
NRL bosses will announce next year’s men and women’s draws as early as next week, with both schedules currently undergoing final tweaks.
The men’s competition will begin in Las Vegas on March 2, while the NRLW will again start later in the year to allow both grand finals on the same day.
But there are significant changes for the women’s structure.
Last year’s Origin series was played over two games with Queensland lifting the Shield based on a superior for-and-against after both teams won one match.
There had been extensive calls for players throughout the series to increase the contest to three games in line with the men, allowing for a natural decider.
Those pleas have been answered, and AAP has been told a third game for the series will be announced when the draw is released next week.
All matches will again be held as stand-alone fixtures.
Players are set to receive a significant financial boost out of the decision, given the $15,000 match fee for all women’s Origins matches.
The NRL has also taken a common-sense approach when it comes to expansion of the women’s game at club level.
The league had written to the seven clubs without NRLW sides late last season to gauge a timeline on when they felt they would be ready to enter the competition.
That had prompted a suggestion the NRLW could expand to 12 teams in 2024, one year before most had expected the next growth in 2025.
That had been met with resounding opposition from current players and coaches, with an AAP survey revealing the vast majority believed the league was not ready after going from six to 10 in only 2023.
Among concerns from players and coaches was that at least 60% of players were already signed to deals for next year and how this would impact the quality of incoming clubs.
The NRL has now decided against expansion in the club competition for next year, with the most likely scenario remaining two new teams enter from 2025 as loosely mapped out in the collective bargaining agreement.
Further expansion is then likely again beyond that with some clubs pushing for 2026 entry.
Plans are already in place to increase the talent base for further expansion.
The NSW Rugby League is poised to move their women’s premiership into the NRLW window next year, creating a proper reserve-grade competition.
A full U17s competition will also be introduced in the Lisa Fiaola Cup, mirroring the men’s pathways for teenage competitions.
NRLW players will likely be given the chance to play in a NSWRL preseason club competition prior to the Origin series, while Queensland’s State Cup will still operate over the first half of the year.