Big month ahead as Origin draws near
MAY could prove a busy month in the women's game.
Club contracts are expected to be finalised soon, so NRL premiership announcements around coaching staff and first player signings could start rolling out in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, preparations begin for the National Championships, which will take place the first weekend of June on the Gold Coast.
There, Queensland and New South Wales City and Country teams will play against a Combined Affiliate States and an Australian Defence Force side. These are effectively trials for places in the premiership.
While clubs have been keeping a close eye on the state leagues underway at the moment, the Nationals serve as a combine, a chance to watch the best talent come together in one place. The NRL Elite Women's Squad will be among them and hopefuls outside those 40 players can stake their claim for a contract.
That weekend is also training run for Origin hopefuls.
The first women's 'State of Origin' (the first time it is under that banner and played as part of the NRL representative weekend) is just six weeks away.
NSW coach Ben Cross has been keeping a close on the NSWRL Harvey Norman Premiership and is pleased with how his players are performing.
Even though they have less preparation time as a NSW squad to previous years, he's confident the professionalism has developed enough that it won't affect their performance.
He's also seen more talent flow into the system through Tarsha Gale Cup.
When Cross took over in 2015, his first NSW training session was 25 players he knew nothing about who were brought together simply because they were in the camp the year before.
Now he has a strong competition for spots, which he says is important for the health of the NRL competition and will grow as more players graduate from the under-18s, nine-a-side league.
"If they [the NRL] want to progress to where they have a 10, 12, 16-week professional competition you need to have that level of competition for representative spots," Cross said.
"It's not going to happen overnight.
"Now we're starting to see one, two years of Tarsha Gale girls graduating out of there and coming into Harvey Norman. Probably another two years of that - about five years of Tarsha Gale coming through - you'll see a few more teams, or if not more teams, even just the standard of the Harvey Norman girls go right up as well.
"These girls will have been in high performance coaching environments and almost training how Harold Matts and SG Ball boys teams do."
The competition for spots has meant his players now have to consider playing in different positions. Much like Josh Dugan moved to the centres to improve his chances of Blues selection, Cross now encourages his female players to consider doing the same.
"It's about matching the right player's skill set for the right condition and having a look at whether players can play a different position to what they do in club level as well so that they're not pigeonholing themselves … like at men's level when sometimes players do play out of position just to get a Blues or Maroons jersey," he said.
"I can start to see them understanding that.
"That's sort of where the pathways program has progressed to now, which is a good thing."