Female rugby league players throughout the Hunter will soon have another corridor to realise their NRLW dreams.
Thanks to the backing of naming rights sponsors Oporto, Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) is set to host A-grade tackle fixtures on its 2024 calendar, with several of its senior clubs – such as the Maitland Pickers – making moves to field sides.
The Newcastle-Maitland regional competition featured Central Newcastle, Kurri Kurri, Lakes United, Raymond Terrace, South Newcastle, Western Suburbs and Wyong this year.
And, with the popularity of the women’s game at an all-time high, general manager Adam Devcich said it was a natural progression for the Real NRL moving forward.
“They’ll be part of Newcastle Rugby League’s match days,” he explained.
“I think it’s a great time to start elevating that competition.
“And, advancing it means things like having the games recorded or filmed by Bar TV, giving the coaches access to post-game technology and developing a pathway into the Newcastle Knights’ system.
“At this stage, the matches will be played before the under-19s.
“It’s a bit difficult, we can’t really play them between the young guys and reserves because a lot of the 19s back up for the reggies.
“However, if clubs want to move them on certain days, they’re welcome to make that application.
“Also, organisations within the region that are not currently aligned with Real NRL competitions will be able to participate if they are of appropriate standard.
“The Oporto Women’s Premiership final series will be conducted at the same time as the Denton Engineering Cup, culminating in the decider at McDonald Jones Stadium in September.”
Devcich said female participation numbers continued to rise, too.
“The guys at NSW Rugby League (NSWRL) have done a really good job at building those junior competitions to evolve into the senior format,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“I believe, at last count, out of all the women who are playing the sport in the state, 12% are in the Hunter.
“That’s an astonishing figure.
“So, it’s up to us to elevate that and make it a genuine path to the Knights.
“We did have a league tag competition a little while ago, like 2018-19, but this is the first time we’ve included women’s tackle on our match days.
“It’s very exciting.
“The skill level of the players is incredible these days.
“The women are virtually matching it with the men, you only need to see how well the Knights have gone, two premierships in the past couple of seasons.
“The advent of the RISE program, for teenage girls and boys, has made a big difference.
“It certainly helps… and, obviously, the longer they’re at it, the better they become.”
Devich believes securing the services of Oporto is a massive boost as well.
“To have a business like that on board is great,” he said.
“They’re a terrific company and well-known.
“Oporto is not only the naming rights sponsor for the inaugural competition, but they’re supplying water bottles to all the girls’ and women’s teams in the Newcastle, Coalfields and Lake Macquarie areas.
“And, for those who like their food, every participant will be eligible for a 10% discount card at their restaurants on the Central Coast and in the Hunter, so that’s pretty good.”
Oporto brand manager Anna Kiernan was delighted to team up with the Real NRL.
“We are thrilled to be supporting women in sport through our sponsorship with the Newcastle premiership,” she said.
“We hope that this partnership can assist all athletes to soar to their highest heights.”
As for the Denton Engineering Cup, Devcich said the men’s format was already “shaping up well”.
“So far, it looks like it’ll be very strong again,” he added.
“There’s been a fair bit of player movement in recent weeks and the introduction of former NRL stars Nathan Ross, Blake Austin and Blake Ferguson, for example, add to that element.
“Then when you look at the calibre of coaches in our ranks, it all promises to be a big season.”
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