NRL say time is right for Dogs, Warriors to join NRLW

Scott Bailey |

More than a million viewers tuned in as Newcastle won the 2023 NRWL grand final.
More than a million viewers tuned in as Newcastle won the 2023 NRWL grand final.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has emphatically declared the time is right for women’s expansion, confirming Canterbury and the Warriors will join the NRLW in 2025.

The NRL took its next giant leap into the women’s game on Thursday, confirming the league  would go to a 12-team competition from next year.

It means the competition will extend to an 11-week regular season, with the late-season window after State of Origin unlikely to move.

A two-week top-four finals system will remain, with the decider to stay alongside the men’s grand final on the October long weekend.

The increase from 10 to 12 teams is in line with a deal struck in early 2023 with the players’ union, and the return to New Zealand should open more pathways.

But there will be detractors, with questions asked over the standard of the AFLW after it expanded to 18 teams.

The NRLW has tripled from four clubs in 2020 to 12 teams in 2025, with a further two added in 2022 and four new sides in 2023.

Regardless, Abdo said research showed the time was right for the women’s game to expand.

“We are creating opportunities and we’re cultivating opportunities for talent to come through and to be developed and to be showcased,” Abdo said. 

“With the Dolphins (in the men’s) and NRLW expansion … we’ve seen the competitions get better, even more competitive.

“We had eight million viewers (for the NRLW last year), and one million viewers for the grand final.

“The quality of the NRLW competition just gets better and stronger. The play-the-ball speeds are down, ruck speed (has improved). Offloads are up, tries are up.

“Those kinds of metrics are tangible evidence that the quality of the product has not been in any way shape or form compromised through growth.”

Warriors NRLW players celebrate a win in 2020.
The Warriors will make a welcome return to the NRLW from next season. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

The Warriors’ return comes after they last featured in 2020 but withdrew due to COVID-19, while Canterbury have long had lower-grade women’s sides.

Their entries leave the Dolphins, Manly, South Sydney, Penrith and Melbourne as the only NRL outfits without women’s sides.

The NRL has no timeline on future expansion, but any further growth before the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement at the end of 2027 would likely require agreement from the Rugby League Players’ Association.

That growth could also be dependent on greater monetisation of the women’s game.

There is currently no specific women’s broadcast rights deal, with the competition included at cost price to Fox Sports and Nine in the last overall negotiations.

But the NRL is making no secret of the fact they want to sell the women’s rights in the next cycle in 2028, after trouncing the AFL for total viewers last year despite playing far less games.

“Maximising broadcast rights, that’s a key priority,” Abdo said.

“We’re a professional sport. So we monetise the sport so that we can invest back into pathways and back into grassroots. 

“How we market and we monetise the game, not just in terms of broadcast money, but in finding new ways to connect with audiences (is crucial).”