By Danielle Smith
The NRL has announced this morning some sensational changes to ensure the growth and professionalism of the women's game.
Expansion, pay rises, insurances and junior development were all on the agenda, with the NRLW a big winner from the announcement.
From the 2023 season, the competition will expand to eight teams, with that number growing to 10 in 2024. Clubs not currently part of the NRLW will be able to submit bids to join, with the successful clubs announced later this year.
Each club will be able to purchase two marquee players as full-time employees, and also have a salary cap of $350,000 for the team. This cap will help increase the current average earning of an NRLW player by 28 percent.
Representative games received a pay rise as well. Those playing in All-Star matches will now take home $3000 instead of $1600, with State of Origin match payments increasing from $4000 to $6000. From 2023 the Origin series will also increase from the current format of just one match, to two stand-alone matches.
In a boost to player's health and fitness, all contracted players will now be covered by private health insurance.
There have also been investments made to girl's junior rugby league and pathways programs.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo made the exciting announcements this morning.
"Today is an exciting day for the women's game. We're expanding to eight teams in 2023 and 10 teams in 2024. We're also introducing a salary cap for next season and creating the opportunity for more players to access full time employment through their club,'' he said.
"The expansion of the NRLW competition and the introduction of the salary cap will ensure players earn substantially more income from our game
"We're experiencing significant growth in television audiences and that's down to the players and the Commission will continue to invest and support that success.
"Importantly the announcements today are about ensuring a sustainable NRLW competition. We've always been very clear that we would ensure our playing talent is deep enough and our clubs are prepared before expanding. The lead-in time ahead of the next expansion phase will ensure our clubs have the right infrastructure in place and there is even more depth to our playing talent."
He added: "Today is not just about the elite game, it's also about building stronger participation and pathways.
"The Commission is focussed on building the women's game from the bottom up. Not just encouraging more participation as players but also more female coaches and female referees. Right across the game we will continue to work to create pathways for women regardless of whether they want to play, coach, referee or be an administrator."
"I want to thank our players. They were incredibly patient while we ensured we could launch a 2021 season which gave everyone the opportunity to play and we've had really constructive conversations with the RLPA about the next steps in our growth strategy," he said.
"I also want to acknowledge our partners. Particularly Telstra along with Nine and Fox Sports who are incredibly committed to growing, investing, and promoting the women's game."