NRLW accelerates growth to 10 teams

·2-min read

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo has dismissed fears the rapid expansion of the NRLW will diminish the quality of the competition after adding four new teams on Wednesday.

As AAP reported last month, Canberra, Cronulla, North Queensland and the Wests Tigers will join the 2023 season.

They join existing clubs Brisbane, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Parramatta, St George Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters.

The NRL initially planned to add two teams in 2023 and two more in 2024, but has instead opted to fast track to 10 teams for next year. The 2020 competition was played by just four clubs.

The rapid growth has prompted fears the competition could witness to regular blowout scorelines due to lack of depth in talent.

"We're doing it in a strategic manner to ensure we don't dilute the quality of the game on the field," said Abdo.

"This is quick but it's no quicker than we believe that we can produce. That's a credit to the four (new) clubs.

"Our total national participation is 35,000, when we started the NRLW in 2018 it was 10,000.

"We're very comfortable that the quality won't be compromised."

Abdo couldn't give a specific date on when the other remaining clubs could expect to be given NRLW teams and said, as things stand, only clubs with existing men's NRL sides will be considered for licences.

The NRLW remains the only women's competition in Australia without a collective bargaining agreement and Abdo was unable to confirm when female athletes could expect to be full-time professionals.

He did concede the salary cap would increase in 2023.

"I don't know when we are going to have every player being able to justify playing NRLW full time," he said.

"But I know that as we add more teams, and as we have a competition that looks a lot closer to the men's competition, there is going to be a threshold point.

"The men's game has been played for over 100 years, in terms of having contracts and playing for premierships this (the NRLW) has only been going for a couple of years."

The NRL said they did not receive an application from the Warriors, who were a founder member of the competition but withdrew due to COVID-19 for the 2021 season.

Abdo said the next round of expansion - likely to be in 2024 - loomed as the date they would most likely return.

"It's been a very challenging time for the Warriors and we are on the brink of getting them back to Auckland," he said.

"Then they can think about re-entry (to NRLW). The Warriors are very important for our competition. Those athletes based in New Zealand who want to relocate will be supported by the NRL."

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