This article was first written and published for The Roar.
I now have another four teams to support in rugby league, with the NRL announcing this week the clubs that have been granted inaugural licences in the 2018 Women’s Premiership.
In a historic day for footy, the Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters, St George Illawarra Dragons and New Zealand Warriors have all been granted licenses and will now begin negotiating with players to assemble their squads.
Caitlin Moran is expected to be the Roosters’ first signing, with ‘Red V’ ambassadors Samantha Bremner and Kezie Apps expected to play in red and white, while Karina Brown is being touted as a potential captain for the Brisbane Broncos.
A hundred players will be needed for the competition, so a contract process will begin to provide four balanced squads.
This was a day of much joy for rugby league, but I was also disappointed to see the Cronulla Sharks and South Sydney Rabbitohs miss out on licences.
There has been plenty of focus on the Sharks and how they have been hard done by, particularly because of how much they have done for women’s footy, including launching the Cronulla Sharks Women’s Series team, hosting the Women’s Rugby League World Cup in 2017, and already having contracted players, including current Australian Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims.
The Sharks already had a coach lined up for the team, as well as a major sponsor.
But I am equally disappointed for the Bunnies, who have this year entered a team in the NSW Women’s Premiership, and have several Jillaroos connected to the club, some who have also previously played for the Redfern All Blacks like Maddie Studdon, Lavine O’Mealey and Nakia Davis-Welsh.
I understand the reason the NRL picked the four teams it has. Granting the Warriors a licence means that New Zealand is represented and the Broncos cover Queensland. The Roosters will make a showing for the Central Coast and Sydney, while the Dragons will look to capture the talent of over 14,000 women and girls who play in the Wollongong catchment area.
Additionally, there has been a view expressed by Jillaroos, former players and people involved in the women’s game that the correct approach is to start small to ensure a quality competition and then build it from there.
However, it’s still difficult to see two teams miss out on receiving licences, particularly when both clubs are so invested in women’s footy.
Only six bids for licences were put in. I wonder how different the outcome would have been had clubs been given a bit more time to prepare?
The announcement about the women’s competition was made just after the conclusion of the World Cup. It was logical to harness the energy and support of the time, but it didn’t make much sense from a planning and administrative point of view, particularly if the NRL was hoping the clubs would bear the financial costs of fielding a team.
It was no surprise that no club from Western Sydney was in a position to put in a bid, particularly after reading so many articles about how few clubs are actually profitable.
But, regardless of the process, or which teams have been selected, we are here and we have a women’s competition.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will see women given fresh opportunities in the game that they have loved for years.
For many, that will include the opportunity to wear the jerseys of the teams that they have supported since they were little girls. For others, it will mean a real opportunity to coach at a top level – like Luisa Avaiki, who has been named head coach of the Warriors.
Luisa captained the Kiwi Ferns to victory in the first three women’s World Cup tournaments – in 2000, 2003 and 2008 – with a playing career that lasted from 1995 to 2009. Since retiring, Luisa has worked at the Melbourne Storm as a game development officer and since 2016 has been the New Zealand Rugby League’s wellbeing and development manager.
We may even see a place for female commentators once the competition begins.
But for the moment, I am thrilled that we have another four teams to celebrate and look forward to hearing more about the competition.
To the Sharks and the Rabbitohs – thank you so much for everything you have done and continue to do for women’s footy. The journey is not over here. And if there is a silver lining to all of this, it is not only that women are now getting an opportunity to play the game that they love but also, that by the time you have teams in the new competition, you will have listened and learnt from the mistakes that will inevitably be made in the competition’s first year.
When it comes time to expand the competition, I know you will be ready.