Bega export Kezie Apps could get the chance to run on in a fully-fledged women’s NRL draw sooner than she hoped.
The NRL anncouned the roll out of its own women’s competition in 2018 despite expectations the feature would not run until 2019.
Fairfax Media understands that a round robin tournament will run in the lead-up and alongside the NRL finals series, as well as a stand alone State of Origin match mid-season.
The tournament, that could feature the Bega export and Illawarra Dragons ambassador will culminate on grand final day, as part of a triple header.
In addition, players will be offered national team contracts, with the Jillaroos also set to play matches in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
"We will have 40 Jillaroos contracted, and additionally, fully funded elite training camps throughout the year for our players," NRL boss Todd Greenberg said on Wednesday.
It is expected that up to six teams will participate, but it's not yet confirmed which existing franchises will be involved, with the New Zealand Warriors and Brisbane Broncos both said to be interested.
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.
The NRL boss said women’s league was the fastest growing segment of the game.
“For the first time, there will be a dedicated pathway for our women to follow – from grassroots junior league, to State Competitions, and on to Premiership matches and representative Origin and Test match opportunities,” Greenberg said.
“The Women’s game has become an attraction in its own right and anyone who has seen the Jillaroos in action cannot help but be impressed by the skills and athleticism on display.
“The NRL is determined to provide the right channels for women to follow and play rugby league – and today is a great starting point for that program.”
The 40 players in the Jillaroos roster will also be given playing contracts and receive payment for their matches and elite training camps.
“In other words, we are taking the women’s game to a new level,” Greenberg said.
He did say the governing body was happy to start with the smaller competition and didn’t want to rush building the national draw.
“We are not going to rush in with a larger competition until we have the numbers to give it the quality it deserves,” he said.
“But I have no doubt that, as more women take up the game, the competition will grow.”