NSW Rugby League (NSWRL) and Queensland Rugby League (QRL) have joined forces today for the historic announcement of Harvey Norman as the first major sponsor of women’s Rugby League and the unbroken pathway from under-six girls to open representative competition in both states.

Harvey Norman’s support of the fastest-growing segment in Rugby League sets the important foundations for further developing the state pathways and talent pool for expansion of the women’s game.

The partnership with Harvey Norman includes naming rights of the NSW and Queensland women’s Interstate Challenge teams (July 23 match); NSW City Origin team (13 May match); NSWRL Open Women’s Conference (starting 22 April); NSWRL Women’s Premiership (starting 29 April); female-only coaching clinics; and grassroots female carnivals and programs in both states.

The partnership would also help the QRL expand their Queensland Academy of Sport Girls program (introduced earlier this year for Under-15 girls) and ensure Under-14 and Under-16 girls continued to be given the opportunity to experience representative football at State Junior Carnivals, among other female-focused initiatives.

Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page said: “Harvey Norman is committed to supporting the development of female player pathways at all levels of Rugby League.

“Today’s announcement ensures girls from NSW and Queensland can chart their Rugby League playing future, if their talent and commitment permits, all the way through to representative competition.

“Both the NSWRL and the QRL understand the need for consistent opportunities for skill development and new competitive challenges for girls at every age.

“The next generation of female players, those coming through these newly formed ranks, will take Women’s Rugby League to the next level.”

NSWRL CEO David Trodden and QRL Managing Director Rob Moore joined Harvey Norman National Promotions and Sponsorship Manager Stephanie Crockford to make the announcement at a Harvey Norman Girls’ Pathways Clinic at Mount Pritchard in Sydney’s south-west today.

Trodden said: “This is an historic day for New South Wales Rugby League and the QRL to secure a sponsor for the women’s game and female pathways programs and we are delighted to be forming that partnership with Harvey Norman.”

Moore added: “Both ourselves and the NSWRL have worked hard to build genuine pathways for girls and women to play Rugby League with initiatives at school and club level; while also investing resources in developing our elite representative players.”

Until recently in NSW, there had been a longstanding gap between mixed junior leagues and open-aged competitions, with girls being able to play Junior Rugby League competition with boys until the age of 12 and limited and inconsistent opportunities to return to competition until the age of 17 in the open division.

NSWRL Football General Manager BJ Mather said it was important to build a healthy pathway through the state competitions which will result in a higher standard and quality of competition.

“Ultimately we are building towards a state-based semi-professional women’s competition in the next three years to provide players the opportunity to get used to playing that level of competition regularly,” Mather said.

“At a representative level, 2018 will see our interstate women’s competition given Origin status and the match will be played as a double-header with one of the men’s Origin games.”

Mather said NSWRL had worked to bridge the gap that had existed to establish the now unbroken pathway, with the introduction of competitions such as the Tarsha Gale Gup this year (equivalent to Under-18 boys SG Ball and Queensland’s Mal Meninga Cup); and the elevation and increased resourcing of the NSWRL Women’s Premiership (to bring it in line with our premier state men’s competition, the Intrust Super Premiership NSW).

Building sustainable competitions remains a key focus, with the QRL taking a coordinated approach with schools to provide a strong base for participation. This year has seen the implementation of the Karyn Murphy Cup, a new statewide competition offered across four age groups (11-12 years – Years 5 and 6 only, Years 7 and 8, Years 9 and 10, and Years 11 and 12).

QRL Head of Football Neil Wharton said the organisation would also continue to invest in club-based opportunities for women and girls by providing strong competitions across the three QRL Divisions – SEQ, Central and Northern.

“The ultimate goal is to provide healthy competitions for women and girls to take part in,” Wharton said.

“The long-term goal in the female game is to provide opportunities to be involved – just like males in our game – at all age groups.”