New Zealand are set to enter the Harvey Norman Women's National Championships for the first time in 2023 under a new format structure announced on Friday.
The elite women's tournament, which showcases the next generation of NRLW talent in the southern hemisphere, will return to Pizzey Park, Burleigh from May 18 with 12 teams split into three pools across a four-day draw.
New Zealand – who will play as Ahi Ka Aotearoa – will be one of three teams alongside New South Wales and Queensland who feature under 19s talent only with the remaining nine sides participating set to be a mix of both 19s and opens players.
“The philosophy of the tournament has always been about the opportunity for our next best talented female players to be seen by NRLW clubs," Jillaroos head coach and NRL General Manager - Player Pathways Brad Donald said.
“That’s driven our changes around the draw. There is no actual ‘winner’ and the idea behind that is there’s less pressure on coaches to actually win and more pressure on them to give every player the same access and ability to be seen.
“Those areas are supported by really strong state-wide competitions, so for those players that don’t make NRLW out of the National Championships, they still have a great opportunity to go back and play in their state competitions whereas our Combined Affiliated States teams don’t necessarily have that opportunity.
“We will still have a player of the tournament, there is an accolade for players who do well, but the greatest accolade those players will get is picking up a contract with an NRLW club as they see the next best talent that’s on display."
The inclusion of New Zealand is an exciting new development that will help strengthen the game after COVID struck down some of the past established opportunities for players.
The success stories of last year's tournament include the rise of teenage sensation Jada Taylor, Raiders recruit Monalisa Soliola and player of the open's tournament Jessica Gentle, who all went on to later make their NRLW debuts.
The Queensland Rubys defeated NSW City for the under 19s title in 2022 while NSW Country beat Western Australia in the opens division under the previous format.
City of Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate was pleased to welcome the National Championship back to the region.
"Our city strongly backs the growth of professional women's rugby league, so it is fantastic to see the Women’s National Championship back for 2023 with support from Major Events Gold Coast,” Mr Tate said.
"The tournament comes at the same time the City is supporting the annual Women in Sport Summit. I encourage all league enthusiasts to get down to Pizzey Park to witness some of the best female athletes in the world.”
Donald said fans of rugby league should head out to see the next wave of talent on show.
“It’s always really well attended and there’s nothing better than getting out there and watching lots of games of footy, there’s six on every single day," Donald said.
"We only have to look back on the past National Championships and there will be a high percentage of players that have played in the National Championships since 2018 who end up NRLW players, it will be well over the 50 percent mark."
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2023 Women's National Championships
- When: Thursday May 18 to Sunday, May 21
- Where: Pizzey Park, Burleigh
- Live streamed on NRL.com
- New South Wales Country
- New South Wales Emerging Country
- New South Wales City
- Queensland Rubys
- Queensland Sapphires
- Western Australia
- Northern Territory
- South Australia
- Australian Defence Force
- First Nations Gems
- Ahi Ka Aotearoa (New Zealand)
A tournament draw and squad lists are expected to be released in May. Entry to the event is free across all four days. The Harvey Norman Women’s National Championship is proudly supported by Major Events Gold Coast.