Canberra Raiders CEO Don Furner is confident an NRLW bid from the club for 2023 will receive a positive response from the decision makers at Rugby League Central.
“They’ve told us that they would look favourably upon an application from us because we represent a massive region,” Furner revealed to Everything Rugby League.
“When you’re talking about putting pins on a map you don’t want nine teams in Sydney. They might have north, south, east, west representing Sydney, and then Newcastle, Canberra and Melbourne, a couple in Queensland. It spreads it geographically a lot better so we would be looked upon favourably.
“We’ve got the facilities, we’ve got the finances, we certainly need a couple of talented women who are ready to be pioneers with the team and then the young girls will get confidence playing around them. Not dissimilar to when we started the Raiders (mens) team.”
The Raiders enter a Tarsha Gale Cup (Under 19s) side but beyond that players from the region wanting to play at higher levels have to commute or move to Sydney to join Harvey Norman Premiership or NRLW sides. The outlook for local athletes who aren’t in a position to move or commute is to give up the dream of playing rugby league at the elite level.
“The biggest growth for us in the region has been with young women. So we have to give something for them to aspire to and ensure that growth continues. It’s the same as it was for kids in the region here 40 odd years ago. Once you have a local team to aspire to then the growth will continue.
“There are quite a few rugby league girls at the moment playing out at the Brumbies (Rugby union) because they have got that branding. They can pull on a Brumbies jersey and that’s powerful. The Brumbies is a well known brand now and that would be the same for us so I’d expect to get a few of those (players) back.”
Samantha Economos, who turned out for Goulburn in the local Katrina Fanning Shield competition a couple of years ago is excited about the opportunities a Raiders NRLW side would bring for her and other local players.
“It would provide a really strong pathway for girls in the Canberra region, including the rural and remote regions that surround Canberra,” Economos, who moved from the NZ Warriors to the Sydney Roosters NRLW side in 2021, told Everything Rugby League.
“A lot of female players in our region have to sacrifice a lot of time travelling to Sydney for more opportunities. This would be an excellent stepping stone for females in the area and provide opportunities for the girls, but also interest and the growth of the sport in the region. There’s also nothing quite like representing your area.
“I would love the opportunity to link up with the Canberra Raiders if it came to fruition. I grew up playing the majority of my representative hockey in the region and lived just outside of Canberra for a couple of years and am now based in Goulburn. Playing for your area is a great feeling and one I would love to have. I also believe it would be amazing if Canberra could pilot a Canberra based team for the Harvey Norman women’s competition in Sydney to further expose potential local girls to a major competition.”
Furner is confident that in addition to the NRL allocation of marquee players, Canberra would have no problem attracting the right talent to the region.
“I look at Millie Boyle who grew up here and her father played for the club. Kezzie Apps in the early days made enquiries with us as to whether we would have a team because she was looking at coming to university down here.
“When we can offer university placement, jobs, careers and work in the public service, it becomes attractive. Now we have to attract talent. But there are others that were here, or that are playing in Sydney at the moment. Josh Papalii’s sister is playing in Sydney. They are around but they’ve had to leave for other opportunities. Once we can show them that the opportunities are there they’ll hopefully return or they will stay in the region.”
Furner says that Covid-19 has pushed the timelines back a little bit but has a goal of entering an NRLW team in 2023 with the possibility of the Raiders competing in the Harvey Norman Premiership next season.
“We would have to know (if the NRLW bid is successful) by the middle of the year next year to start assembling the team.”
“There are companies that will definitely come on board. Once we have a team and they can smell it, touch it, feel it, there will be companies that want to support women’s sport.
“There’s a big company that we have spoken to that would get involved tomorrow.”
If you wish to support the Canberra Raiders bid to enter an NRLW team you can purchase raffle tickets here