CANTERBURY WOMEN’S COMP REFLECTS GAME’S MASSIVE GROWTH
Women’s rugby league has enjoyed extraordinary growth in New Zealand, Australia and around the world in recent years – and the Canterbury Rugby League scene is certainly a reflection of that popularity.
CRL WOMEN’S COMPETITION EXPANDS
After a lengthy period of inactivity, a women’s competition resurfaced in Canterbury in 2015 consisting of three teams, five regular-season rounds and a grand final.
That expanded to a five-team full season CRL women’s premiership for the next two years. In 2018, two-time defending premiers Papanui Tigers, 2016-17 runners-up Linwood Keas, Hornby Panthers, Woolston Rams and Aranui Eagles have been joined by Celebration Lions (who withdrew midway through last season) and Burnham Chevaliers (who fielded a team under their own steam in 2016 and merged with Hornby for the 2017 season) to form a seven-team competition.
Keas women’s coach and CRL Development Officer Kylie O’Loughlin says the increased number of teams and players is a great sign for the game, but cautions there’s still plenty of work to do to guarantee the longevity of the women’s premiership.
“It’s great there are more teams in the competition but we need to work collectively to ensure the standard of the play is at a certain level, where all teams are competitive throughout the premiership for the full season,” O’Loughlin explains.
The influx of teams and players – many of whom have never played rugby league before – creates some unavoidable discrepancies early on, and the early rounds of the 2018 season have witnessed a few lopsided scorelines.
“On one hand you’re looking at getting people involved and on the other it creates disadvantages with some teams being more structured playing against new players. That creates a bit of mismatch straightaway.
“Aranui, for example, have had to start from scratch again from last year and a lot of their girls have never played before, and Celebration are in a similar situation.
“I look at Linwood’s beginnings, we started back in 2016 and it takes a bit of patience to see it through. We knew back then that miracles weren’t going to happen in one season, we had to stick at it to get to where we are now.
“I guess that’s good for other clubs to see, that if you stick at it things get better.”
O’Loughlin’s immediate focus in on the Keas’ grand final rematch with archrivals Papanui, who have had their measure in the past two deciders, on Sunday at Linwood Park.
The Tigers’ strong line-up features Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe, Canterbury’s sole Kiwi Ferns representative at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, and Corrina Whiley, who made her international debut alongside Kuruwaka-Crowe in last year’s Anzac Test against Australia.
“We’re pumped up for it – it’s good to get this game at the start of the season and we’re walking in with a bit of confidence after what we’ve done in the last couple of weeks,” O’Loughlin says.
Linwood have notched big wins over Celebration (76-10) and Woolston (98-0) so far, while Papanui have accounted for Burnham (78-0) and Hornby (50-10); both teams are anticipating their biggest test of the season so far.
“We’re still mindful that despite what we’ve done in the last couple of weeks, we’ll get a different type of challenge from Papanui. We’re excited to see where we’re at.
“And I guess they’ll get something different from us than what they’ve experienced so far – we’re both in a similar position where we both use the games against each other as a gauge to see where we’re at as a team.
“No disrespect to the other teams, we just get a bit more of a test against Papanui and we’re really looking forward to it.”
O’Loughlin praised her squad’s attitude in the lead-up to the 2018 campaign and is hopeful a commitment to conditioning has helped close the gap between the Keas and the Tigers.
“We’ve been lucky, we’ve kept the same number of players in the squad. There’s been some changes, but the main focus of our pre-season was our fitness. I’m pretty happy as a coach that the majority of our squad have taken that seriously.
“They’ve trimmed down, they’ve done their own homework on top of what we’ve given them and I think that’s made a massive difference in the confidence of our team and how we get around the park.
“And also the skill level – when you’re working under fatigue, you have a tendency to create mistakes. Our improved fitness has helped lessen our error rate, so hopefully that continues on the weekend.”
WOMEN’S LEAGUE HITS THE BIG TIME
In the wake of a highly successful Women’s Rugby League World Cup staged in Australia last year – which came on the back of the hugely popular Kiwi Ferns v Jillaroos Nines series and Anzac Tests – the NRL has announced a historic women’s premiership for later in 2018.
Brisbane Broncos, St George Illawarra Dragons, Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors will field teams in a highly-anticipated competition that will run during the NRL finals series.
— Women's Rugby League (@WRugbyLeague) March 26, 2018
The announcement has created a buzz throughout women’s rugby league – and O’Loughlin is hopeful Canterbury’s best will get the chance to snare a roster spot with the Warriors or one of the Australian clubs.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for girls down here, seeing that there is a pathway. We’re trying to link that up to see how Canterbury can be involved in that,” the former Canterbury rep says.
“As an NRL team you’re not bound to pick players from your province or region, so we’ve got to understand the approach the Warriors are going to take and also the three clubs from Australia, and how far the net spreads.
“We definitely want our players to be a part of that.”
— Women's Rugby League (@WRugbyLeague) March 27, 2018
The NZRL National Women’s Tournament in June looms as a key platform for Canterbury players to potentially showcase their talents for NRL club scouts.
“We’ve got a meeting on Monday with an open invite to all players in our competition who want to be considered for this Canterbury side,” O’Loughlin reveals.
“We’ll get an idea from that as to who actually wants to put their front foot forward and give it a shot.
“How that ties into the NRL competition is something we’re still trying to work out.”
Yup, @WRugbyLeague is here ?
— NRL (@NRL) March 27, 2018