December 2021 Opinion

Women’s League Deserves Professionalism

The NRLW is set for its biggest year yet, but the players deserve more than what they're receiving at the moment.

Women’s rugby league has existed for 100 years, yet still today, our female players are fighting to simply play the game they love, without having to hold a second job.

In recent weeks the Queensland Rugby League declared it would be paying its female players equal to the men. There was some fancy wording in that.

The men get paid $15,000 per State of Origin game, the women are getting paid $15,000 for their single match, but that’s only for those who go through training, camp and into the game.

Players get $4,000 for time off work to train, travel and recover, $7,000 each for the 19 players who go into Origin camp, and $4,000 each for the 18 selected on match day.

It does total up to $15,000 if you’re one of those 18. And it is a substantial increase on the $3,000 that female players received this year for Origin.

The pay announcement was widely welcomed, and here’s hoping the New South Wales Rugby League will follow suit.

But there were some who seemed to have an issue with women being paid the same as men. 

There is a belief that women should only be paid equally with their male counterparts when the NRLW and Women’s State of Origin pulls in the same amount of money and attracts the same level of attention.

Well, first off, that’s not how you grow a game. It’s not how you develop players and it’s not how you generate more interest.

In often used business parlance, you have to spend money to make money.

There are no better case studies than those presented by the Australian Women’s Cricket Team and the Matildas.

Both codes heavily invested in their players a decade ago, and they have seen the results.

Australia’s women cricketers are full time and the quality and skill of their cricket has only continued to improve.

The Matildas have gone from strength to strength with full time funding. They are now a heavyweight of women’s football.

Both codes have managed to produce multiple generations of world class players that have kept those teams around the summit of their respective sports.

The NRLW is the youngest women’s competition in Australia. The NRL was a little late to the party in that respect. However, I like how they’re looking to grow the competition.

I don’t necessarily think the AFL is doing the right thing by massively expanding the AFLW almost overnight, as they’re at risk of spreading their top line talent far too thin, impacting the level of play.

The NRLW’s decision to expand to the Gold Coast, Newcastle and Parramatta shows it is trying to increase participation of female players, that gives them a pathway to the competition in their local areas.

As Kylie Hilder told RLM earlier in the year, the NRLW has already seen a dramatic rise in local girls in the Hunter area playing rugby league, the Knights are only going to add to that.

Parramatta itself is home to a huge chunk of the NRLW’s players with many living or working in the area, while the Gold Coast now provides a second option to those players who aren’t picked up by the Broncos in Queensland.

That all being said, the players still aren’t professional.

They’re not asking for million dollar contracts. They’re asking for enough money so they don’t have to work outside of football to pay the bills and support their families.

The men stopped doing that in the late 1990s and look at how the game has improved. You allow players to become full time athletes and the competition improves immensely.

2022 is going to be a massive year for the women who, at the moment, will only be part time.

For the top line players, they will be looking at 40 games across the year with their season beginning in February and ending in November.

That’s longer than the men.

Those players will play NRLW in February/March, they will then play their local state competition, then State of Origin, followed by another NRLW season and finishing with the World Cup in November.

How can the governing body expect them to play that much football as part-timers? None of them will have that much leave available to them to take time off work.

You could honestly get to the point where players miss games or camps so they can keep their jobs.

In recent Origin series players have had to come to camp late due to work. That shouldn’t be happening in 2021.

The NRL made a $50 million profit this year. 

If you were to pay even just the centrally contracted players $100,000 each next season, which is less than the NRL full-time minimum, it would cost the NRL $2 million.

On top of that, the NRLW should have its own administration that would allow for people at League HQ to properly advocate for them.

They need their own CEO and their own administrators to ensure they aren’t just an afterthought of the NRL’s head honchos.

The fact they butchered the postponement of the 2021 NRLW season by not properly engaging the players is testament to that.

The AFLW has Nicole Livingstone as its CEO, while Cricket Australia runs women’s cricket, it has invested heavily in their development.

In 2017 CA increased total female player payments from $7.5 million to $55.2 million. By the end of 2022, a female Australian player on a base contract will earn a minimum of $87,609 per year.

For a domestic female cricketer who plays in the Women’s Big Bash League, she earned a minimum of $43,000 for the season that was just concluded, with the average pay across a squad being $65,000.

If the NRL truly wants to see the women’s game continue to grow and become more successful, it needs to allow its players to be full time athletes.

The time is now.

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