COUNTRY Rugby League has announced major changes to their representative pathways on Monday, with the introduction of a women’s open-age tackle competition to replace Women’s League Tag in the CRL Country Championships and expanded men’s under 23s and junior representative competitions.
The continual growth of women’s participation and the explosion of CRL Women’s Nines competitions across regional NSW has led to the introduction of women’s tackle into the annual tournament; with 10 representative sides to be selected from CRL Women’s Nines and local competitions across the state.
One of the 10 women’s sides will be an Illawarra/South Coast Dragons team – a combination of the top players in Group Seven and Illawarra District Rugby League.
With their inclusion, the Dragons will now have four teams in the country championships, also featuring in the under 23, under 18s and under 16s men’s competitions.
CRL are currently working in conjunction with the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) to host a regional based under 16s and open age Women’s League Tag Championship over a designated weekend during the season.
CRL female participation officer Kylie Hilder believes the introduction of women’s tackle to the Country Championships is a great indication of the increasing popularity of women’s rugby league.
“The inclusion of women’s tackle into the Country Championships creates a clear pathway for regional players from local competitions to various levels of representative football including the Women’s National Championship, State of Origin, NRL Women’s Premiership and Australian Jillaroos,” Hilder said.
“Women’s participation is the fastest growing segment in the game and this is no more evident than in Country Rugby League where there are now more 11,000 registered players.”
Players competing in the Women’s Country Championships, Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership and relative competitions will be available for selection in the Country Women’s Representative team to contest the Women’s National Championships in the lead-up to Women’s State of Origin selections in 2019.
Hilder hoped Country’s National Championships victory and subsequent selection of eight players in the victorious NSW Women’s State of Origin team, would serve as inspiration for regional players to take advantage of the increasing opportunities for female players.
“We had the first ever CRL Women’s Northern v Southern trial match and Women’s National Championships this year and through those games we saw the emergence of girls like Hannah Southwell and Holli Wheeler go on to not only be part of victorious Country and NSW Representative sides, but also secure themselves NRL Women’s Premiership contracts with the St. George Illawarra Dragons,” she said.
“It’s such an exciting time and the pathway has never been clearer for females looking to make their mark on the game.”
Changes have also been announced for the men’s under 23s and Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley Cup junior representative competitions, with the men’s under 23s extending to include an additional round and the Johns and Daley Cups extending to become a seven-week competition including finals.