BROTHERS Ipswich coach and former Jillaroo Natalie Dwyer has labelled it "an exciting time” for women in rugby league, following the NRL's announcement of a women's competition beginning in 2018.
Dwyer, who captained the first-ever Jillaroos side in a two-test series against New Zealand in 1995, said she never expected "it would get to this stage so quickly”.
"I didn't think women's rugby league would get to where it is now, I think it's great they're going to be paid and their talents put on show,” Dwyer said.
"It's exciting times now for the women's game. It's great to see they're starting to get some recognition.”
With the AFL, FFA and Cricket Australia already making significant inroads into women's sport, the NRL was seen to be drastically behind the curve.
Dwyer said it was not a lack of desire from the NRL to expedite a women's competition, rather the governing body wanted to ensure everything was in place for the format to flourish.
"It's been on the cards for a while, but they just wanted to get everything right,” she said.
"They don't want the competition to only last for a season, and have it cost too much money and then all falls through.
"I think they've just been a bit apprehensive in wanting to make sure it does work, and they have their Ts crossed and Is dotted.”
The overwhelming success of the recent Rugby League Women's World Cup, won for a second consecutive time by the Jillaroos, likely ticked the final box for the NRL to forge ahead with the competition.
"I think the fact a television station was willing to televise those games is another big thing,” Dwyer said.
"For people that may not have known women's rugby league was around, they could turn the TV on and see it in the comfort of their own living rooms.
"That to me was a big step.”
It is not currently known how many teams will make up the inaugural NRL Women's competition, but NRL CEO Todd Greenberg confirmed "up to six” teams will be aligned with current NRL clubs.
Greenberg said 40 players would initially receive Jillaroos contracts, including payments for matches and attending high performance training camps and access to elite training programs year-round.
Brothers stars Ali Brigginshaw and Brittany Breayley will likely be part of the initial intake of 40 players, having solidified their place within the Jillaroos set-up in recent years.
Outside of already established names like Brigginshaw and Breayley, Dwyer said the women's competition would provide a great opportunity for up and coming players to showcase their talents.
"If you look purely from a numbers perspective, if (Jillaroos coach Brad Donald) selects 40 players then you need another 80 or more (to field six teams),” she said.
"Where do those 80 come from? You'd like to think you'd find quality players to showcase our game.
"There's always spots available to anyone playing good football.”
Dwyer hailed Donald as a big reason the women's game has entered the consciousness of the Australian sporting public.
"Brad Donald has done a great job alongside his coaching staff in getting the girls to be as professional as possible,” Dwyer said.
"It's great to see coaches are not there for themselves, but for the benefit of the players.
"Winning the World Cup has gone a long way. It's really put women's rugby league on the map, and hopefully young girls can now aspire to play alongside the likes of Ali and Britto.”
The competition will run concurrently with the NRL Finals Series, and will not impact player availability for local club sides such as Brothers.