Last year Ruan Sims became the first woman to sign an NRL playing contract.
In 2018, she will be joined by a host of others after the NRL unveiled their new elite women’s program. Central to the program will be a six-team competition that will be played in the lead-up to and during the NRL finals series, giving women the chance to shine on the biggest stage.
Games will be played concurrently with the men’s competition. Initially 40 players will be contracted and every woman that participates in the competition will be given match payments.
Sims did not think this landmark moment would happen so quickly.
“I dreamt it. I definitely dreamt it,” Sims said.
“I honestly thought it would be 2020 by the time we got there, but these kinds of opportunities excite me so much.”
Fresh from the Jillaroos’ 23-16 World Cup victory over New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday, Sims admits she is battered and bruised but the news of the Women’s Premiership has immediately invigorated her.
“My body is sore, my head is sore, I am so tired but I am so happy,” she said.
“I was bouncing in my seat, I was thinking I will go and train this afternoon, I was going to take a few weeks off but I am going to get straight back into it.
“A lot of girls grow up watching rugby league and they don’t have the opportunity to play. Now they will see that the sport that they love is a potential career pathway for them.
“I think we will see a lot of different athletes from different sports coming back to their roots and really strengthening our game.”
With just six positions in the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership, competition is expected to be fierce to gain one of the licences.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said teams outside of Sydney, including Queensland and New Zealand, would be ideal to spread the competition as wide as geographically possible.
Clubs will be announced next year after an application process. There will be a selection criteria that will have to be met.
Greenberg said a mix of factors would be taken into account.
“Whether its about their commitment to grassroots elite female talent through their own communities, about the high-performance training facilities, resourcing, welfare and education,” he said.
“All of those things will be put into the mix as we award franchises in year one.”
NRL clubs lining up to be included
The ABC reached out to all 16 NRL clubs to gauge the interest in applying and the feedback was positive.
Newcastle chief executive Phil Gardner confirmed the Knights would be applying for a spot in the new competition.
“While there is still a lot to be worked out to ensure long-term success for the women’s game, we will be putting in an application to have the Knights represented in this competition,” he said.
St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust said the Dragons would also apply to be included in the Women’s Premiership.
“St George Illawarra, and particularly Illawarra Rugby League, have been instrumental in the development of interest in women’s rugby league over many years now,” he said.
“We have certainly expressed our interest already to the NRL about having a St George Illawarra Dragons team as part of the inaugural Women’s Premiership.
“Given the support and structure that we already have within our region for women’s rugby league, we believe it is logical and appropriate that the Dragons are included.”
Sydney-based clubs Parramatta, Wests Tigers, Cronulla and Penrith responded with interest, with Panthers high performance manager Matt Cameron saying the club was, “passionate about the growth of rugby league and building a strong women’s development pathway”.
The Bulldogs and Rabbitohs are also interested in fielding a team.
The Brisbane Broncos put their hand up to be involved, while Canberra and the Gold Coast expressed their interest for the long term but outlined in the short term they would not be able to provide adequate facilities to accommodate women’s teams.