THE Newcastle Knights have submitted an expression of interest to enter the inaugural NRL women’s competition – but will need to be satisfied it is cost-effective.
The NRL has given clubs until February 16 to apply for a licence in what is expected to be a six-team, semi-professional premiership.
Games will be played as double-headers leading up to and during the NRL finals series, and the grand final will be a curtain-raiser to the NRL decider at ANZ Stadium.
Wests Group/Knights chief executive Phil Gardner said the club would like to be involved, pending financial projections.
“We haven’t seen a budget yet, so that’s always been the issue for us,” Gardner said.
“What’s it going to cost us to run it? We’re interested, and we think it’s a great thing for the game. But we have already taken a lot on for this first season, so we’re waiting to see the the financial details, and where it sits.
“My gut sense is that we probably won’t be putting a side in, on the basis of cost.”
Gardner said “at a guess”, it might cost up to $500,000 to field a women’s team each season. He said that unlike other interested clubs, the Knights will have to fund their own NSW Cup team this season and had also invested heavily in their under-16 and under-18 teams, appointing full-time coaches for those teams in former first-graders Rory Kostjasyn and Scott Dureau.
“We’re concerned that, if funding a women’s team costs as much as we expect it will, when you consider players and staff, it would be too big a step for us in this first year,” Gardner said.
“What we don’t want to do is take on too much, too soon.
“Certainly there are other clubs that are likely to make bigger bids than we can, but they perhaps don’t spend as much on their pathways programs as we do.
“We’re very heavily committed to investing in the grassroots, and not all clubs have the same priority.
“But if we’re not involved this year, hopefully we’d be in a better position to have another look at it next year.”
Gardner said if the NRL could attract sponsors and produce a viable business plan for the women’s franchises: “We’d certainly be interested then.”
It is understood NRL officials are keen for at least one of the franchises to be regional, and Newcastle would appear an ideal base, given that last season North Newcastle made the grand final of the NSWRL competition, in which they were beaten 26-16 by Redfern All Blacks.
Three of North Newcastle’s players – Caitlin Moran, Rebecca Young and Isabelle Kelly – were then chosen in the Australian Jillaroos’ World Cup squad.
Newcastle are fielding a team in the Tarsha Gale Cup, an under-18 nine-a-side competition. Their first match is against St George at Dudley Oval on Thursday (6pm).