A move to implement an under-18s women's rugby league nines competition from next year – with a full senior competition further down the track – will boost longer term success for the women's game in NSW down the track.
That is the view of members of the drought-breaking women's NSW team that broke a 17-year losing run against Queensland recently, as well their coach Ben Cross, men's NSW coach Laurie Daley and the NSW Rugby League hierarchy.
Blues and Jillaroos skipper Ruan Sims was on hand at NSW Parliament House on Wednesday for the historic announcement and as she reflected on the recent interstate win as the highlight of her career she also praised the fact that up-and-coming female players would now have access to a pathway she could only have dreamed about when she was almost lost to the game.
"Just the mentality that surrounds women playing rugby league has brought us to the point where we are sitting in NSW parliament in a room of high flyers and they're all looking to us and saying we are the leaders of the future and we're helping to bring women into the spotlight and that's fantastic," Sims said.
When Sims turned 11 and no longer had the option of playing rugby league she was almost lost to the game but luckily, via a stint in other sports including basketball and rugby union, she returned. There's no way of knowing how many other potential modern-day Jillaroos stars were in the same position and did not return but pathways like this will ensure that question won't need to be asked in the future.
NSWRL Chair Dr George Peponis OAM in announcing the 2017 early-season competition – expected to feature around 10 teams – would help develop "the best of the best" in that age group "as we push forward to an elite female league" expected to start up around 2019.
Daley praised the move, noting that the under-18s pathway has been absent from the women's sport for a while.
"Rugby league for women over the last couple of years has exceeded everyone's expectations. There's always been keen interest in rugby league as a spectator but the last five to 10 years there's been a big increase in participation so when that increase came we just didn’t have those pathways in place," Daley said.
"You know what they're capable of doing and who knows where the sport for girls will be in 20 and 30 years' time."
Daley also welcomed the club-based elite senior female competition from 2019.
"What we've seen over the last couple of years with women's football is a tremendous amount of skill," he said.
"The key is to give these girls that love rugby league the opportunity not only to watch it but to play it…
"For us, they're keys and they're trailblazers because they'll look back on their rugby league careers and they'll look back on this moment and know they were a part of this new journey women's rugby league is about to go on."
Sims praised the skills she recently witnessed at a NSWRL all-schools junior carnival, where she said there was no doubt she had spotted some future Jillaroos, and hoped the rapidly-improving pathways would seed greater success for the NSW women against rivals Queensland into the future.
"They love the sport and I know NSWRL are going to harness that and they are going to be our future Jillaroos and that is going to maintain our dominance throughout our interstate challenge which I hope will be called State of Origin in the near future and we will have that prestige," Sims said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com