Rugby converts will fit into NRLW if they do hard yards: Dibb

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

NRLW players won’t get their noses out of joint if rugby sevens stars swoop in on roster spots, according to Jillaroos five-eighth Kirra Dibb.

You could imagine the likes of Charlotte Caslick and Ellia Green lining up for in the Holden Women’s Premiership causing angst among the rugby league ranks.

And you may not need to imagine them playing them in the NRLW with some of our Australian Women’s Sevens stars being given the all-clear by Rugby Australia to compete in this year’s NRLW.

“Code wars” is an ugly concept that often rears its head in conversations like this, but it’s important to listen to the views of the people affected the most – the players.

Dibb is excited about the prospect of these players wanting to do the hard yards to adapt to the 13-player code. For any sevens player wanting to try their hand in the NRLW, it certainly won’t be a cakewalk.

“By the sounds of things, none of them think that they are just going to get a starting spot,” Dibb said.”They look like they want to put in the work and if they do the work and want to have a crack, I think it is a great opportunity.”

Caslick is close to sealing a deal to play with the Sydney Roosters.

“I think it is a great advertisement for the game to have such prestigious women in sport wanting to play our game and have a crack,” Dibb said.

Charlotte Caslick representing Australia at the Women's World Sevens Series in France in 2016.
Charlotte Caslick representing Australia at the Women’s World Sevens Series in France in 2016.©photosport.co.nz

“These are women who have competed in the Olympics and played rugby at such a high level so to know that they see the merit in the NRLW and the kind of athletes coming through it is great.

“It is a good way to advertise Australian sports and the talent that we have coming through, especially in women’s sport. It is an exciting prospect to get such international talent interested in our game.”

Brisbane have also indicated their interest in sevens talent while reaffirming the importance of pre-existing squad members and the bond their squad has formed playing together over several years.

Even if there is not a major injection of rugby sevens talent into the NRLW, there is still so much talent coming through the rugby league pathways via competitions like the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership and the Holcim Cup.

This interest from rugby sevens players highlights what is one of the most uplifting qualities underpinning women’s sport – the cross-code support.

When it was announced Australia would be hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup social media lit up with many of Australia’s national sporting teams like the Jillaroos, Diamonds and Pearls celebrating that moment.

Jillaroos Tiana Penitani, Keeley Davis and Kirra Dibb at the Jillaroos' boot camp in March.
Jillaroos Tiana Penitani, Keeley Davis and Kirra Dibb at the Jillaroos’ boot camp in March.©Jason O’Brien/NRL Photos

On March 8, Dibb remembers being in Jillaroos camp and settling down with the rest of her teammates to cheer on the Australian Women’s Cricket team in the final of the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup against India.

“It’s a great thing that women’s sports can promote each other and support one another,” Dibb said.

“I love cross-code support. I love girls supporting girls and us all getting around each other.

“In these unpredictable times, it is more important than ever. The future is unsure so it is a great chance to make sure that support stays really strong.”

The possible inclusion of rugby players is almost a minor issue for Dibb given how excited she is that the Holden Women’s Premiership will happen at the end of the year.

Just like many others, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dibb was apprehensive and worried about the future of the women’s game.

None of them think that they are just going to get a starting spot.

Kirra Dibb

Initially there was very little conversation about its future which led to some fear it had been put on the backburner.

“At the beginning, having a season was a huge concern. We didn’t know what was going to happen or even if we were being thought of,” Dibb said.

“But the NRL did end up doing a great job, especially through our Jillaroos squad, they kept us in the loop, we had regular meetings and were very reassuring that we were still at the forefront of their thinking.”

This has been one of the most important parts of the NRL’s commitment to the women’s game. At each stage the players are spoken to and their views listened to.

Waiting was the hardest part for Dibb. The announcement about Women’s State of Origin on the Sunshine Coast was the first piece of good news. Then it took a couple more weeks before details about the NRLW season were revealed.

“Knowing there was footy to be played this year and that we kept up our training during our isolation for a good reason was an incredible feeling,” Dibb said.

“The NRL have done well. It’s something I have reflected on now. At the beginning I was so worried about the future of the women’s game, but the reality is that they did have a lot on their hands at the beginning.

“They were always keeping us at the forefront and dealing with things as they came.”