Female rugby league players Goulburn and the surrounding regions will soon have a clearer pathway to the NRLW.
Canberra Region Rugby League general manager, Mark Vergano, confirmed with the Post recently that, following the announcement of the Canberra Raiders' intent to field a team in the NRLW, the CRRL's Katrina Fanning Shield could become a new feeder competition.
"Don Furner Jr [Raiders CEO] has announced that the Raiders will be looking to try and apply for a license for the NRLW in 2023," Vergano said.
"We want to look at talent across what has traditionally been the Raiders footprint between Monaro, the Riverina, and the broader Bidgee region. We have been having conversations with Group 16 ... about expanding the Katrina Fanning Shield to reflect our ambition.
"We want the Katrina Fanning to be a talent ID competition, as preparation for the NRLW."
In the eyes of John Sykes, a member of the Goulburn Bulldogs committee who coached the premiership-winning Katrina Fanning Shield Stockmen side in 2018, this development is "very exciting".
"I think it's great for the women's game," Sykes said.
"All those girls that are starting to take the game seriously, around 16 to 18 years of age, they can probably see a way to reach the top echelon and stay somewhere close to home."
Should the KFS continue to expand, it will continue a remarkable trend of growth in the women's game in recent years.
2021 saw 1,150 female players participate in CRRL competitions, out of 5,798 in total. And, while the competition's numbers grew by 10 per cent since the 2019 season, the amount of women swelled by more than 25 per cent.
If the KFS can become the proving ground for potential NRLW recruits that Vergano and the CRRL hopes it can be, it will provide the last brick in a direct pathway from junior rugby league to the highest level.
"We've had great growth [in women's rugby league]," Vergano said.
"We've got functioning competitions in the Katrina Fanning, and we've got a team from the Raiders in the Tarsha Gale Cup, so the pathway is there,
"We've got all the areas, the rep pathway, the community participation pathway, the community league tag pathway, and the schools program.
"All that will go towards the NRLW model. And so if we add a competition potentially feeding into the Raiders, that is a huge advantage for us."
Goulburn had four representatives in the Canberra Raiders' 2021 Tarsha Gale Cup squad, and Sykes believes that Goulburn could secure some spots in the Raiders squad, but said they "will have to live and breathe the sport".
"If you're going to be competitive, you've got to be ultra-professional nowadays in that women's comp," he said.
"What sets the really good girls' sides apart from the decent ones is desire. I know Goulburn's got a lot of young girls who have been through the Raiders programs in recent years, and if you looked around the teams in the competition there's probably one player in every side that could get up to that level."
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