Jillaroos preparing for busiest year yet
World Cup-winning Jillaroos coach Brad Donald has had several selection headaches over the past year but he is about to face his biggest challenge yet, finalising a squad of 40 contracted players for the upcoming season.
It is arguably the biggest year for the women's game with the launch of a national competition on the back of last month's World Cup triumph.
Donald said no player was guaranteed a contract based on their previous selection with several members from opposing countries at the World Cup also eligible to play for Australia.
Veterans Steph Hancock and Renae Kunst have hung up their boots, paving the way for at least two new positions in the squad.
More than 60 hopefuls – including the entire current Jillaroos line-up – will trial for contracts at Runaway Bay on February 9.
"It will be tough, we had a top 40 for the Jillaroos last year but we want to be inclusive of all nations," Donald told NRL.com.
"There's some players here that can represent New Zealand, PNG or other nations and no doubt stood out in the tournament."
An attractive contract offer could sway a player to change eligibility with other nations not in a position to match the new agreements NRL CEO Todd Greenberg announced in December.
Jillaroos prop Elianna Walton coached the Cook Islands in the lead-up to the tournament last year before pulling on the green and gold, while sisters Stephanie and Eliza Wilson turned out for the Moana.
"We will do our best to make sure the top 40 is the best in the country," Donald said.
"We'll also be doing a lot of work to get around to players 41 to 250 to give them some understanding on the benchmarks they've got to reach and be picked up by an NRL club."
The women's rugby league calendar is set to kick off on February 23 at the Commonwealth Championships in Redcliffe.
Donald confirmed at least 15 current Jillaroos players would make the trip, before players return to their respective states to prepare for the National Championships and State of Origin.
The first women's premiership will kick off in August with the code set to next month unveil the six NRL clubs taking part.
Donald believes quality and depth will not be an issue for the female game and expects to attract athletes from other sports.
"We're going to need potentially 100-150 players at the end of the year to participate in this competition," Donald said.
"In terms of the interest so far we are confident that there are lots of players and athletes that want to be involved. I think with what happened last year we've seen what standards we need to get to and improvements we can make every 12 months.
"On the back of last year's World Cup success and how many people followed that and the success the girls have had over the past 12 months, we're looking forward to an exciting year. There are lots of opportunities for women to play the game."
The Jillaroos will finish the season with Tests against the Kiwi Ferns in the Pacific and New Zealand.