NSW Women to earn the edge on Queensland
The establishment of a new structured rugby league competition for girls in Sydney is a watershed moment for women's rugby league according to Jillaroo Allana Ferguson.
The 23-year-old is more qualified than most to talk about the importance of the new plan given she was almost lost to the women's game under the old structure.
The new pathway has two age divisions; under-14s and 16s and allows girls to continue playing rugby league and not be lost to the other codes.
It is a small step for rugby league, but its importance cannot be understated.
With the Jillaroos brand getting stronger all the time thanks to more support and exposure, the new pathway ensures that the women's game now has a platform to get better and compete with other codes.
"It is hard to get girls involved because there are so many competing codes that offer a lot to the girls, we are playing catch up," Ferguson told NRL.com.
"For the women's game to grow, we need this pathway and the age groups to attract the numbers.
"This will help create women's rep teams in a couple of years and build the system and the pathways that eventually feed into the Jillaroos.
"This is so exciting. They never have to stop playing now and it has a roll on effect. Kids in particular want to do what their friends are doing, so that growth is really important. It grows their passion for the game as well."
With rugby league not an option past her 12th birthday, Ferguson was attracted to touch football, Oz tag and after representing Australia, was eventually scouted by Rugby Sevens.
But Ferguson turned her back on the chance to represent Australia at the Olympics to pursue her love of rugby league and you'd be hard pressed to find someone more passionate about the game.
"The potential to play Olympics was there, but I didn't care, I love league so much, I wanted to get back involved," she said.
"I started playing when I was four-and-a-half and I had to stop playing when I was 12 and I only just picked it up again last year.
"You used to play with the boys until under-12s and then couldn't play again until you were 17 and then you would play opens with grown women.
"I was the only girl playing in the boys comp back then, but I had to find other sports."
The Rio Olympics were are very real prospect for the talented 23-year-old, but a knee injury suffered playing Sevens in China was the catalyst to return to the game she loved. The game that has always been in her blood.
In some ways the move back to rugby league seems a massive sacrifice, but not for Ferguson, who – along with her Jillaroo teammates – wants to be pioneers and see the game soar to unfathomable heights.
"It wasn't a hard decision for me because I grew up watching rugby league, I love it so much and I missed it," she said.
"But for girls who didn't grow up playing league and couldn't because of the massive gap between 12s and 17s – the other alternatives were very enticing."
There are already 13 teams registered across the two age groups, a foothold for the women's game's long-term prosperity.
It is hoped that the competition will continue to grow and attract more and more participants each year.
"We know we are a little behind some other sports in that regard, but we are certainly heading in the right direction.
"In a few years' time, we'll have an enormous player pool to choose from, more girls involved and that is when we'll see a massive difference and all the benefits from this.
"The numbers that have been playing in the past aren't huge, and they have made massive inroads – imagine what we can achieve with these pathways and more exposure for the game. It is incredibly exciting."
Ferguson's immediate focus is the upcoming match against New Zealand at Hunter Stadium.
While she represented Australia at the NRL Auckland Nines, this will mark her first Test match for the Jillaroos. It is something she has waited a long time to do.
And then the ultimate challenge; trying to end Queensland's 17-year undefeated streak.
Ferguson made her debut for NSW at five-eighth last season and the Blues made history by drawing the game, ending Queensland's 16-year winning streak.
They are more determined than ever to finally register their first win.
"We created history last year, they didn't win and they know they didn't win," Ferguson enthused.
"When they confirmed Queensland retained the trophy again, we immediately started talking about next year, we just want it so bad."
Whatever the result, the women's game has never been in better shape or better hands.
This article first appeared on NRL.com