Super W's success proves why it's so important to get fourth season underway

Four years since Super W first kicked off, the delayed tournament welcomes a sixth team and a new format as the competition continues to drive the growth of women's rugby across Australia.

Announced in 2017 and launched in 2018, the six team national competition has been a major success for Rugby Australia. Used as a developmental pathway for the Wallaroos and as a driver, alongside the women's sevens team, for women and girls' participation, Super W has helped numbers build exponentially across the nation.

The introduction of the President's XV as the sixth team to the competition is evidence of the continued growth as RA look to give more young players the opportunity to play at the top level and put their hands up for potential Wallaroos selection. It's this growth that makes it so important the fourth season gets underway, even if it is a truncated tournament.

"It's really important," Jilly Collins, Rugby Australia's general manager of women's rugby, told ESPN. "We nearly got it away in its entirety last year, so it's great to be kicking off the 2021 season this year and having that President's XVs team in, we're really excited.

"We've seen across the last five years there's been a double digit growth every year across both formats of the game. We saw in 2016, coming off the back of Rio, a real boost in girls and women playing sevens and now we're seeing that within the XVs space, numbers and growth trends in XVs are going up. That's really encouraging for us to see because as much as we want our national team to be successful we want Super W to be a great success and competitive.

"It's our number one vehicle where we look at players and consider them for Wallaroos selection. Our national coaches will be there for the majority of the time in Coffs Harbour, so if somebody has a really good Super W tournament then they could be named in a Wallaroos squad days later to play Samoa."

Forced to abandon the remaining play-off and final in the 2020 edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Super W has faced several challenges over the last 18 months as RA try to manage a tournament structure that would fit around AON Uni Sevens, the Olympics, a July Test series and the Rugby World Cup.

Despite the announcement of the delayed World Cup in March, RA chose to keep the condensed format.

Taking place across three weeks, the six-team tournament will be played in three locations with the teams split into two pools and a final to be played between the top team of each pool.

The new format wasn't well received by some, with former Wallaroos captain Ash Hewson telling the South Coast Registrar that she felt "the women aren't valued by Rugby Australia", while questions were raised whether this was a step back for the women's game.

Collins rejected those comments, reasserting the new structure was a one-off and that Super W would return to a full home-and-away season in 2022, while the Wallaroos would be given the perfect runway into the Test series with Samoa in July.

"We always knew that this year was going to be slightly different. I think generally speaking everybody has been pretty understanding as to why we're doing this. Yes, absolutely our preference would have been to have the tournament as it previously was, but because of the scheduling of the Olympics and then Rugby World Cup, it simply wasn't possible to have it as it previously was.

"No I don't think it's a step back, I think it's a realistic position given where we are with COVID. This is, and we always said, it's a one off this year, most importantly we want to give the best players across the country a platform to perform and to put their hands up for selection for the Wallaroos, which is absolutely what we're doing.

"We know we're going into those Test matches against Samoa, where players will have come off the back of Super W, at their peak of performance and fitness. No, I'm really comfortable with what the season looks like this year given the world we're currently living in."

Unbeaten across three seasons, the NSW Waratahs remain the popular pick for a fourth straight title, while the Queensland Reds are close on their heels, eager to take down their rivals and lift the trophy for the first time. But the inclusion of the President's XV proves an unknown with several young, talented players set to make their mark in the competition.

"Just days out from the tournament, we're excited that the first games will be kicking-off and I know the players certainly are absolutely chomping at the bit to get playing, and I know once it gets going and players are on the pitch, they'll be absolutely competitive and vying to get the silverware," Collins said.

"If you look at the list of the squad in that President's XV there's some really exciting talent in there who otherwise would have missed out from mainly being in the Reds or Waratahs teams, so we're expecting that sixth team to be competitive and they're definitely a team to watch.

"There's a handful of teenagers in that squad you're certainly looking at and keeping eyes on into the future, which is exactly what we want. We want this competition to be a breeding ground for future national's representatives."