NRL: The Sharks’ Origin players have stood behind their captain Paul Gallen after he recieved criticism for his performance in game two
THE Cronulla Sharks have just become league leaders in more ways than one, with the NRL premiership favourites announcing they are set to establish a women’s nines side.
The groundbreaking decision was made as part of a concerted effort by the club to provide a genuine pathway for young girls and women to play rugby league at an elite level.
And there’ll be no shortage of talent available, with current Jillaroos Ruan Sims, Allana Ferguson, Sam Bremner, Corban McGregor and Maddie Studdon all expected to be named in the side.
Australian skipper Sims says she is finally seeing a shift in attitude in how women’s rugby league is perceived.
“We were touted as a double header in the Test match in May,” Sims told The Daily Telegraph. “We are not just a curtain raiser.
“That change of language and attitudes towards female rugby league players is crucial to creating professionalism and an avenue to create a national competition.”
Sims, who is a pioneer of the women’s game, has watched her brothers Ashton, Tariq and Korbin forge careers in rugby league and knows this team is the first vital step towards creating a women’s NRL competition.
“We have the talent base but it’s a matter of having a defined pathway for the girls and what the Sharks are doing here is the first step.
“It’s not just lip service to women in league — the Sharks are committed to this and the NRL is beginning to back us too”.
In May, Jillaroos five-eighth Ferguson realised her childhood dream of pulling on a green and gold jumper to play for her country and she is now more excited than ever about her prospects as a young female league player.
“I grew up thinking I’d be playing this game with the boys but then I realised that wasn’t possible, so to represent the Jillaroos that day was unbelievable. It was a privilege; I had goosebumps on the field standing side by side the other girls. I even felt my eyes watering,” said the Shire junior.
“The dream that I had since I was five came true.
“The fact that any club has taken the step to put in time and confidence behind us is huge, and for me having the Sharks doing it is exciting.”
But both Ferguson and Bremner know the NRL is playing catch-up and an elite national competition is way overdue.
“Every other code around seems to be turning professional and we are losing players to these codes because of the opportunities they present,” said Jillaroos fullback Bremner.
“This chance [nines side] will mean more girls stick to the game they love because there’s a way to achieve greater things in rugby league.”
Sharks star playmaker Chad Townsend has thrown his support behind a professional women’s competition, saying the girls deserve to have their talent nurtured and to have the same opportunities as women in other codes.
“I’ve watched them at the Nines and the Test match and the skill level is amazing. There was a lot of good tries, a lot of good hits and the crowd was right into it,” Townsend said.
“Other sports like cricket, and the women’s A-league all have competitions and we need to support the girls and give them a pathway to play professionally.
The Sharks women are in capable hands with Jason Stanton appointed as head coach. Stanton was at the helm of the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team in 2009 when they took out the inaugural Women’s Sevens World Cup.
“If the NRL really wants to be holistic offering a product for the whole family, then a national women’s competition is the way forward,” said Stanton.
The women’s nines side will play an exhibition match at Southern Cross Stadium in August.