The Hunter Valley’s best female players now have an improved – and closer – pathway to the “big time”.
It was today confirmed the Newcastle Knights would compete in the 2021 National Rugby League Women’s (NRLW) competition after being granted a licence.
The announcement is extremely timely, given the Newcastle Hunter Region Knights won the Country Championships last month, leaving all rivals in their wake.
“The women’s game is evolving in a massive way,” coach Russell Grigg said.
“I think my girls were keen to prove they’re ready for the next level, too – they’d heard about the talks of a possible Knights’ NRLW outfit in the near future.
“And, I believe many of them are capable of stepping up.”
The historic news was made public at Rugby League Central in Sydney, with Newcastle CEO Philip Gardner in attendance.
“This is a very special moment for our club, our city and our region,” he said.
“It’s reminiscent of when the Knights was founded back in 1988, when a young and willing group of players got their chance to create a piece of history.
“This is the next big step forward.
“To have an inaugural NRLW team based out of northern NSW, wearing Knights colours, representing everyone from the Hawkesbury River to the Queensland border, is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“Our foundation franchise presents a tremendous opportunity to create long-lasting player pathways.
“In addition to hopefully welcoming back some of our region’s elite, we are looking forward to creating chances for players to represent their town, their region, their state and their country in the months and years to come.”
Newcastle and the Hunter region have long been a nursery for both male and female NRL talent, with some of the competition’s existing players calling Newcastle home.
From grassroots all the way through to the elite level, women’s rugby league continues to strengthen and grow throughout the area.
The Knights’ Tarsha Gale Cup squad won seven games in a row on their way to claiming this year’s minor premiership, while female participation in tackle, tag and touch has continued to rise in the area since 2015.
Recently-retired Newcastle five-eighth Blake Green will take the reins of the side as head coach, with training set to get underway in July.
“We’re really excited to have the Knights compete in the NRLW,” he said.
“I can’t wait to play my part in creating the right environment and pathways for women in rugby league, especially here in Newcastle.
“Our clear intention is to get this right from the start because we only have one opportunity to do so.
“I will be leaning on all my learnings and experience from 14 seasons in the NRL, as well as a very strong staff and core group of players who will continue a great tradition of representing rugby league in the Hunter.”
First starting in 2018, the NRLW has fast developed into one of the game’s showpieces, featuring foundation outfits Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters, St George Illawarra Dragons and New Zealand Warriors.
2021 will be the first season of expansion, with the Gold Coast Titans and Parramatta Eels joining the Knights as new entrants to a six-team format.
Round one will begin on 21 August, with Newcastle kicking off its campaign at Stadium Australia in Sydney.