This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
After months of speculation, the NRL made the almost inevitable announcement that the Telstra Women’s Premiership will be postponed to early 2022.
The news is extremely disappointing for players, fans and administrators. But unfortunately, it was not unexpected.
The six NRLW teams were due to commence pre-season training on Monday. To date, all the players have been training on their own with the teams only able to come together on Zoom.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 situation, starting pre-season training on Monday was impossible, particularly for teams like the Eels who have many players based in the Sydney LGAs of concern.
We have all seen the havoc that the ongoing COVID-19 situation has created in almost every aspect of life. Sport is not immune.
Given the different considerations that apply to the women’s game, the NRL was really faced with no choice but to make this decision.
It’s unfortunate, particularly because so many of us were looking forward to watching the three new teams in action.
The men that compete in the NRL are full-time professional athletes, so the decision to relocate the non-Queensland clubs to the four Queensland-based hubs was easier and it was actually an option.
It was challenging given that the players have families, hobbies and are based in other states and countries, but because the men play footy for a living, this shift was possible.
Such a shift is not possible in the women’s game for many reasons.
The women are not full-time professional athletes and many have study commitments, jobs and family commitments. It is too big a request to ask these women to put a pause on those obligations to relocate to a hub.
While the men are able to pack their bags and move away at short notice, this is not possible in the women’s game. Much more notice is required to ensure that players can have time off work and manage their other commitments.
Additionally, given that most players are based outside of Queensland, and with Queensland really being the only option for relocation, the process of relocating would be too significant for too many athletes.
There are already some athletes who relocated for the NRLW in Australia struggling to get home. Further disruption is unnecessary.
The key message here though is that whilst it is disappointing that the competition has been postponed, it has not been cancelled.
I’ve waited many years to have the Eels in the NRLW … maybe they will start my 2022 off with a premiership
This decision does not reflect the NRL administration’s commitment to women’s footy. They were effectively left with no choice and my understanding is that every potential possibility was explored to see if it was possible to play this year.
But what the postponement does mean is that the women’s game is in for a bumper 2022.
In fact, it may be the best women’s season yet.
The season will begin with the rescheduled NRLW and will also include the All Stars fixture, the Women’s State of Origin, the 2022 NRLW season and then a Rugby League World Cup in 2022.
Because the competition will be played at the start of the year, there is also a great opportunity for current fans of the women’s game to show their support for the competition in a stand-alone way.
Traditionally, the women’s games have been played prior to NRL Finals Series matches (with the exception of one stand-alone game in 2019).
Next year many more of the games are likely to be stand-alone which gives the women’s game its own platform and the chance for fans to flock to watch it.
It also allows the competition some fresh air and to be played in a period where there is little other distraction.
The timing of the competition may also attract new fans.
Given the competition will likely be played during NRL pre-season when anticipation about rugby league is at its highest, there is a chance to take advantage of that interest and get more people passionate about the women’s game.
The pandemic has posed challenges for us all. For the women’s game, it has meant that competitions like the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership have been postponed.
It meant fans were largely unable to attend the NRLW last year. It has also resulted in a postponement in the Rugby League World Cup. And now, a postponement of the 2022 competition.
If the schedule proceeds as suggested, fans will have the chance to watch more women’s footy than ever before. This will also benefit the players, many of whom will be dreaming about representing the Australian Jillaroos at the World Cup at the end of the year.
I’ve waited many years to have a Parramatta Eels team in the NRLW. I think I can wait a couple more months. Who knows, maybe they will start my 2022 off with a premiership. That’s certainly something worth waiting for.