Hold off NRLW expansion until 2026, says NSW coach

Scott Bailey |

Blues coach Kylie Hilder has warned against rushing to expand the NRLW competition.
Blues coach Kylie Hilder has warned against rushing to expand the NRLW competition.

NSW State of Origin coach Kylie Hilder has warned against any looming expansion of the women’s game, suggesting head office should hold off until 2026.

The league seriously considered expanding from 10 teams to 12 this season, before opting against any rapid expansion after already adding four new sides for 2023.

The most likely growth point is expected to come next year, with funding set aside for an extended women’s schedule and an extra two sides.

“We’re really hoping something happens next year with the NRL, even something in terms of putting on a pre-season competition.”   the amount of games. 

But Hilder believes that shows the competition is in a good position, and any further expansion in the next 18 months could impact its quality.

“I am a little bit concerned about two more teams coming in next year, I just think it’s too soon,” Hilder said. 

“We’ve got some great talent coming through the (under-17s) Lisa Fiaola and (under-19s) Tarsha Gale competitions. 

“So in two or three years’ time the comp is going to be flooded with super talent.

“Next year I’m just worried about two more teams, and if they’re Sydney teams I’m worried about what it does to the competition.”

A competition-wide survey of NRLW coaches by AAP last year showed most were against expansion of the league in 2024.

A weekly under-17s competition has been introduced in NSW this year, and the NSW Premiership has been pushed back to be at the same time as the NRLW and provide a proper reserve-grade competition.

“We’ve got to build the base,” Hilder said. 

“I work in the pathways and they’re coming through, but we have to give them time. It’s a big step up.”

The structure of the women’s season has impacted Hilder and her NSW side, with the NRLW beginning after the three-match Origin series, and no reserve grade in Sydney before that.

Captain Kezie Apps is among some Sky Blues players to have signed to play in the early-season Queensland Premiership, but Hilder has locked in a six-week pathways camp for Origin hopefuls.

Kezie Apps
Kezie Apps has signed to play in the early-season Queensland Premiership. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

She is confident games among the 36 players selected will allow them to be match-fit for Origin I on May 16 at Suncorp Stadium, with Apps and others playing in Queensland required to fly back for the final two weeks.

“We had some girls who were going to play in Queensland decide not to so they can go through this program,” Hilder said.

“It’s good for them to see that it’s not just a walk in the park to play Origin, there’s a little bit of competition there for positions, and I get a good look at a group of girls twice a week.

“We’re really hoping something happens next year with the NRL, even something in terms of putting on a pre-season competition.”  

AAP