Women's NRL to be launched in 2018

Exciting future: Cronulla Sharks women's stars Corban McGregor (left) and Ruan Sims at the press conference announcing the launch of a women's NRL competition. Picture: AAP
Exciting future: Cronulla Sharks women's stars Corban McGregor (left) and Ruan Sims at the press conference announcing the launch of a women's NRL competition. Picture: AAP

Cronulla and St George Illawarra could potentially be among NRL clubs to have women’s teams participating in a dedicated female competition next year.

The NRL announced on Wednesday a round-robin tournament will run in the lead-up to and alongside the NRL finals series in 2018.

The tournament will culminate on grand final day, as part of a triple header, and a standalone State of Origin match has been scheduled for mid-season 

In addition, players will be offered national team contracts, with the Jillaroos also set to play matches in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Six NRL clubs will be granted licenses to run women’s teams in the new competition, with Cronulla a likely destination given their support of women’s rugby league in recent years.

Cronulla’s home ground at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Woolooware, also held the entire group stage and semi-finals of the women’s rugby league World Cup last month. 

It's not yet confirmed which NRL clubs will be granted licences, with NRL CEO Todd Greenberg inviting clubs to apply.

"Shortly, our NRL clubs will be invited to put forward their plans to be a part of this inaugural national women's series ... and this will be a very serious and competitive bidding process,” Greenberg said.

"We will have 40 Jillaroos contracted, and additionally, fully funded elite training camps throughout the year for our players.” 

World Cup winners and Cronulla Sharks women’s stars Corban McGregor and Ruan Sims spoke at the press conference on Wednesday.

"The last piece in the puzzle is this national competition but what was more exciting for me was that we genuinely have a juniors to Jillaroos pathway," Sims said.

"We've been so successful in changing the language that surrounds rugby league ... we're a genuine force in the game. 

"We are genuinely heading in the right direction. It's so exciting."

McGregor, who broke into the Australian team in 2016, said she was "excited to see the future of rugby league", and spoke about how her young son and his school mates were 'pumped up' about the women's World Cup. 

"Girls now can play from the grass roots level all the way through to the level we're playing at, and it's the first time we've ever been able to say that." 

Australia went on to win the final against New Zealand 23-16 in Brisbane last weekend.

"For the first time in our game's history, we have a complete series of programs, pathways and competitions from girls through to women," Greenberg said.

"We're very proud of the work that we've achieved to date, and we're proud that we have such a strong base with which to launch the next phase of women's rugby league. It is the fastest growing segment of our sport, and has been for some time now." 

The NSW women's competition will continue to run during the winter, as it did in 2017, when Redfern defeated North Newcastle in the grand final.