The highly successful NSW Pathways Program received another accolade on Sunday when it was announced 14 of their players had been included in the 24-player Jillaroos World Cup squad.
Queensland players have historically dominated the Jillaroos in the past, but since the NSWRL implemented the program in 2015, the growth of female NSW players has gone on an exponential run and they won their first and second Interstate Challenge’s in that time.
The program has fast tracked the development of NSW players and has helped a group of them grow into international standard; and there has been a competition for representative spots that has never been seen in the women’s game until now.
“We had a squad of 40 to 45 that we had to pick 24 out and out of that probably two thirds pick themselves because of their international and interstate experience,” says NSW Performance Programs Manager and Jillaroos assistant coach Jamie Feeney.
“From the last 17-24 positions there’s competition there and if you ask any of the girls that have been involved there’s never been that competition, and that competition makes people train harder.
“Jillaroos coach Brad Donald always says pressure makes diamonds - which in real life, it does - so we’ve put some pressure on these girls and they’ve really come through.”
The Pathways Program has included the NSW under-16s (now non-existent), under-18s, and under-20s representative games, and along with the women, none of these sides have been beaten since mid-2015.
No team has seen dramatic improvement like the NSW women’s interstate side, however, who won their first match in 18 years last year before going back-to-back in July; something Feeney, coach Ben Cross and his staff can be credited for.
The NSWRL also implemented an under-18s Tarsha Gale Cup for women this year, highlighting that the game for females is in an accelerated period of growth within the state and the country.
“With the growth of the game, it’s grown an enormous amount in the last couple of years since our Pathways Program started and the competition started getting better,” Feeney says.
“There’s more interest around the game and more interest comes with more publicity, more publicity comes with free to air TV which then turns into dollars because people want to get behind it.
“People want to get behind it so that little bit more money and resources that you can put back into the game on all different levels starts to raise the standard and it’s really happening.”
The standard raised within NSW has been obvious, however there are female players outside of the two premier Rugby League states that are capable of representing the Jillaroos, further highlighting the growth of the women’s game.
Feeney credited Meg Ward, who came through the affiliated state’s system and played for Australia against PNG a few weeks ago.
“Meg Ward tested well, her attitude is unreal, and her skill level is up there with some of the other.
“She’s pushed some interstate girls out which has been huge; they’ve got four weeks of training before coming into camp.
“They have got a strong program there and they’ll self-motivate themselves to get out and get the work done.”
The women’s representative calendar looks to grow next year, with a Tarsha Gale Cup Country-City game to be played before the regular women’s Country-City match.
Feeney and the Pathways Program must be credited for fast-tracking the development of all women and juniors within the state, which will hopefully lead to success in both State of Origin and the Women’s Interstate Challenge in years to come.
“I’m really happy with the results of all our Pathways Programs; it started in March of 2015 and six weeks later we were into our first Origin so it wasn’t really enough time to get that going.
“That first year was us finding out feet and figuring out how the program was supposed to work, since then we’ve worked it out and we haven’t been beaten which gives me a lot of pride because of what we’ve managed to do for NSW.
“That will extend next year into the Tarsha Gale Cup [new Country-City fixture]; unfortunately under-16s Origin is no longer but there will be a City v Country for them too.
The Jillaroos play their first World Cup game on November 16 against the Cook Islands at Southern Cross Group Stadium.