Melbourne Rebels yet to determine contracting, payment details for women's team

The Melbourne Rebels' decision to pay their women's team for Super W 2022 garnered plenty of excitement and attention, while also placing pressure on the remaining Super W sides to follow suit, however there's still plenty to be done behind the scenes before the first paycheck is handed out.

Two weeks after the announcement at the Rebels' end of season awards night, Melbourne CEO Baden Stephenson told ESPN the administration has yet to determine what player contracts will look like and how much the players will receive.

"Yeah, there's still a fair bit of detail and work to get through in regards to what that contracting model and the payment model might look like," Stephenson told ESPN. "We'll just work away with Rugby Australia and RUPA [Rugby Union Players Association] and certainly we've made the decision and will follow through with it.

"It's certainly the first step and it would only be part-time contracts, the Super W season is only a reasonably short competition in February-March so it's a small window."

Even so, the Rebels' intent to pay their players is the first step in bridging the gap to professionalism and is a clear sign of the growth women's rugby has had in Victoria.

Just five years ago, before the Super W tournament was developed, Rebels players such as Georgia Cormick were forced to fundraise thousands of dollars each season to cover travel expenses and kit, and they also had to take time off work in order to play in the old national championship. Now, she's excited to be receiving even a small paycheck that will help cover the time she must take off work.

"I've been involved with the Rebels since its inaugural season and also before that, back in our nationals days where we had to fundraise," Cormick told ESPN. "I've seen it from the very beginning having to fundraise, you know, over a grand each time we went away to be able to pay for our kit and our flights and accommodation and all that kind of thing.

"So yeah, to be able to go from that to now not having to pay and then being paid, I think it's really special to be a part of it, and I think it's going to help women's rugby grow and hopefully the other franchises follow suit and all players in the Super W get paid because I think it's well overdue and we all deserve it."

At this stage no other Super W franchise has made the decision to follow the Rebels lead. NSW Rugby - whose Waratahs are the four-time Super W champions -- told ESPN it will continue to facilitate fundraising initiatives to help contribute to the women's program.

"NSW Rugby Union is incredibly proud of the successful women's program we have been running at the Waratahs since the inception of the Super W competition," a NSW Rugby spokesperson told ESPN.

"Our men's and women's program have always shared the same high-performance facility at Daceyville and look forward to a permanent home at our new centre of excellence set to be completed in 2022.

"We run fundraising initiatives to enable us to add extra value to the women's high-performance program and are always looking at ways in which we can better resource and support the team.

"As the profile and the commitments of the Super W competition grow we are endeavoring to be in a position to remunerate our women's team accordingly."

Meanwhile, a Brumbies spokesperson told ESPN they fully support the Rebels initiative and hope to be in a position to remunerate their players soon. Both Queensland Rugby and the Western Force were also contacted for comment.

While the Rebels' decision to pay their players appears to be rushed, there's been plenty of work behind the scenes to bring the women's team more in line with the men's program.

Stephenson told ESPN the organisation has been working to shift the women's program away from Rugby Victoria and bring them more in line with the Rebels franchise, which gives them greater access to high-performance facilities and resources, including a new high-performance gym currently being overseen by Nick Stiles, the Rebels general manager for rugby, while last Saturday both teams participated in an all-in training session.

"Our women's, similar to the men's team, have had so many challenges thrown at them in regards to COVID; relocating games and not being able to even train. The women lack facilities and then to throw on top this season where the girls had to give up work or shifts, it was actually costing them money to actually participate, so we just want to take a little bit of that pressure off so they can focus on being the best they can and we're creating the best environment we can.

"We're opening a new high performance gym, and the coaching staff are doing professional development, so there's a whole range of activities happening, financial is just one piece, but we're pretty excited to show the women's game some love from top to bottom." While seemingly only a small step forward in the women's game, the incentive of payment will no doubt help the Rebels retain their talent and will encourage young players to continue their rugby journey.

Currently the Rebels are competing with the AFLW, one of Australia's biggest women's sporting competitions, for numbers with the football code growing to eight Melbourne based teams in 2022. Despite this, the Melbourne franchise has one of the highest participation growth rates in Australia.

"The girls in Melbourne, they're just so passionate and they just love the game, and we've got such a quality group of young athletes," Stephenson told ESPN. "The participation growth in Melbourne is probably the highest percentage anywhere in Australia.

"Since the Rebels existed, we've doubled the participation rates right across the whole code and a big percentage of that is female participation in both sevens and fifteens.

"Obviously, they're very different games and the great thing about rugby is it caters for all shapes and sizes, ages and skill sets, so I think the fact that we've got a pathway for our rugby girls, I think they're pretty passionate about doing something, building something really good for rugby in Melbourne."