NRL launches women's premiership in 2018

Steve Zemek
Jillaroos players Corban McGregor (l) and Ruan Sims at the announcement of the NRL women's program

Game on.

The NRL has outlined its plans to take on the AFLW with a televised national women's premiership to be launched in 2018.

In a red-letter day for the code and women's sport in Australia, the NRL announced a raft of initiatives headlined by a new elite women's competition.

Up to six NRL teams will be granted franchises with the tender process expected to be finalised by March.

St George Illawarra, Cronulla, South Sydney, Brisbane and the Warriors shape as natural fits for possible licences because of their already strong presence in the women's game and geography, though NRL CEO Todd Greenberg predicted competition for franchises would be stiff.

With a boom in popularity in women's sport -- such as the AFLW, W-League, Super Netball and WNBL -- rugby league is one of the last major sports to announce an elite women's competition, however, they're bullish about slicing off a major market share.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg called it the first step towards a 24-round, fully professional, elite competition to be played alongside the men's.

"It's the first step. And it is a journey," Greenberg said.

"We've got to be very careful and prudent about how we put these systems in place because rugby league is a tough sport and we want to make sure we have all the care around our players and the physical training that's needed, the technique that's needed.

"We're starting with one step at a time but this is a momentous day for the game."

The inaugural competition is expected to run from August to September.

Matches will be played alongside NRL finals games with the final to be played as a curtain raiser to the men's grand final at ANZ Stadium on September 30.

The annual Queensland v NSW match -- formerly known as the Women's Interstate Challenge -- will be rebranded as State of Origin and will be played on the standalone representative weekend ahead of Origin II in July.

There will be a centralised contracting system with 40 Jillaroos players to receive pay deals on top of their national women's championship match fees.

There will also be a national combine designed to attract and poach the best talent from other sports including Australian Rules, soccer, cricket, netball and rugby union.

"I dreamt about this," Jillaroos co-captain Ruan Sims said.

"It's something that we've been discussing as more of a tangible opportunity in the last 12 months.

"I honestly thought it would be 2020 by the time we got there.

"These kinds of opportunities, it excites me so much.

"I just want to start training, I want to start playing."