The women of rugby league are set to become a financial priority, with full-time contracts and equal pay for elite female players one of the NRLW's key targets.
Ahead of this week's Women in League round, the NRL's manager of women's elite programs Tiffany Slater outlined plans for the women's game and said full-time NRLW contracts have "always" been a primary goal.
"It's about balancing the passion and the desire but ensuring we are taking sustainable steps so that in 10, 20 years time, this still exists. And it not only exists, but it is flying," Slater said.
"We need to make the right decision now to set it up for the future. The movement towards full-time, towards equal pay, is the reflection of a wider societal movement."
NSW captain and Jillaroos star Kezie Apps said it was no longer unrealistic to dream about equal pay for female players.
"It is something I believe will happen," Apps said. "The more support we get, the more opportunities we get to train, to be coached by the best coaches … we do a really good job with what we are given."
"If we were full time, imagine the game we could play and the product we could produce."
The NRL announced in July it would fund the 2020 NRLW season for the first time, after the Warriors and the Roosters indicated they would not be able to participate in this year's competition due to the financial impact of COVID-19.
The financial backing came despite the NRL undergoing a number of cost-cutting measures to save around $80 million a year.
"All the effort that has been put into women's rugby league … ensuring that continued to grow in 2020 was vital as soon as we started working through what the impact of coronavirus would mean," Slater said.
Apps said the NRL's financial backing of the NRLW through an unstable period was a welcome development and a credit to the early pioneers of women's rugby league.
"With everything that they [the NRL] have gone through COVID-19, people lost their jobs, people had to be put on hold … for them to agree and give us that confidence that they were going to do everything that they could possible so we can get our competition up and running, that was really nice to hear that," she said.
Prior to COVID-19, the 2020 NRLW season was set to be a year of expansion. The game currently runs with just four clubs, who play in a round-robin competition. There is also one standalone Origin game.
This year’s theme of the Women in League round is ‘From Strength to Strength’, a fitting sentiment for 2020 according to Kezie Apps (left) and Tiffany Slater.Credit:NRL Photos
"It has been hard because we were hoping for an expansion this year because the growth has been amazing for women in sport," Apps said. "We haven't taken a step back, but this could have been the year that we took a couple of steps forward."
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said more and more female-led roles and opportunities have resulted in a shift, with more than a million women now involved across all aspects of the game.
The television ad for the Women in League round, which has a theme of 'Strength to Strength' this year, will be launched on Monday.
The ad focuses on some of the achievements of women in league over the past 14 years, on and off the field. They include Apps helping the Blues to a first State of Origin win in 2018, the work of Kris Buderus and Kirralee Hughes in driving the NRL Beanies for Brain Cancer Round, and the disability grassroots programs built by Gold Coast Titans community general manager Renee Cohen.
Abdo also praised Harvey Norman chief executive Katie Page for forging the Women in League round concept.
"If we’re talking about the strength and stature of women involved in rugby league, Katie is the ultimate role model and trailblazer for thousands of girls and women that have gone on to live out their dreams as part of our game," Abdo said. "It [the NRLW] will be one of the highlights of a challenging year."
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