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Conlon appointed club's NRLW academy manager

Richard Becht &
Tue 28 Mar 2023, 01:59 PM
Screenshot 2023 03 29 92727 PM

One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George today announced leading rugby league administrator Nadene Conlon has been appointed in a new role to create a development and pathways programme for the club’s planned return to the NRLW in 2025.

Conlon, a pioneering figure in New Zealand rugby league, has a long list of achievements including being the Kiwi Ferns’ inaugural captain in 1995 and the first woman appointed as the Kiwis’ fulltime manager, a position she has held since 2016.

Her appointment as the One New Zealand Warriors’ NRLW academy manager is the result of the club and the New Zealand Rugby League joining forces for the betterment of the women’s game in the country.

“Working with (NZRL CEO) Greg (Peters), we have a shared passion and commitment to strengthen women’s rugby league domestically with the end goal of ensuring the One New Zealand Warriors are in the strongest position possible to return to the NRLW in 2025,” said George.

“In Nadene we can call on unmatched experience and knowledge of the women’s game in New Zealand.

“We’re grateful to Greg and the NZRL for making it possible for Nadene to fill this role with our club as well as still working for the NZRL.”

Conlon has been tasked with creating a women’s development and pathways programme for the club and also assisting in the recruitment area with Andrew McFadden, general manager recruitment, development and pathways.

“Both the NZRL and the Warriors will benefit from this joint approach,” said Peters.

“There’s enormous potential for improvement in women’s rugby league in New Zealand.

Playing numbers have increased at a tremendous rate and we need to be better placed to make the most of this.

“Nadene is the ideal person to create a vision and plan for the short-term and long-term future. Ultimately this will benefit the women’s game across the board.”

The One New Zealand Warriors were forced to withdraw from the NRLW during the Covid pandemic in 2021 after being one of the foundation clubs in the competition in 2018.

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How Nadene Conlon plans to rebuild the Warriors' NRLW team from scratch

David Long
Apr 30 2023
In 2020 the Warriors competed in the NRLW, but in a team that mainly contained Australian players, because of Covid 19.

Nadene Conlon was the first ever captain of the Kiwi Ferns and is a pioneering figure for women’s rugby league in New Zealand, but her latest role in the game could be her most significant yet.

Conlon has been charged with re-establishing a Warriors team in the NRLW for 2025 and as well as creating a team she needs to set up pathways to take young New Zealand players up to that level.

The Warriors were a foundation club in the NRLW when it was formed in 2018 and consisted of just them, the Broncos, Dragons and Roosters.

The Warriors were forced to pull out in 2021 due to the border restrictions caused by Covid-19 and in their absence the league has grown to an 10-team competition this year.

Doing something like this can’t happen overnight, so in a joint venture with New Zealand Rugby League, Conlon has been appointed to a new role to create a development and pathways programme for the club’s planned return.

“The strategy first and foremost is about getting back into the NRLW, but also being able to be competitive and sustainable,” Conlon said.

“To be sustainable, we need to be able to build more of a pathway and a good player base.

“So that’s working with the other organisations around the country and potentially the other clubs where girls are at.

“At the moment, a lot of the girls in that space have gone overseas to other NRLW teams for opportunities.

“It’s good that they’re playing at that level of rugby league, but for many, because the game isn’t fully professional, to have a team at home would be really beneficial for them.

“Also for the Warriors, it would be great to have a women’s team back in the competition.”

The NZRL has been working on increasing opportunities for girls and young women to play league. It has held national 16s and 18s tournaments and there was also a full secondary schools tournament last year.

Last week the NZRL announced its inaugural Ahi kā Aotearoa under-19s girls team will compete in the Australian Women’s National Championship in May.

All this helps bring players through the pipeline, but Conlon says there has been a decline in women playing league in New Zealand.

“The numbers have dropped a bit,” she said.

“It does seem to be thriving at the younger age groups, which is great and eventually we’ll reap the rewards of that.

“But in the open age and Premier Women’s it does seem to be lacking numbers.”

A Warriors team in the NRLW could change that. It has already become an attractive option for New Zealand footy players, with a longer campaign than Super Rugby Aupiki and an average salary of AU$37,500 (NZ$40,420) over nine rounds of the regular season, followed by semifinals and the final.

Players on Black Ferns contracts are paid retainers between $35,000 and $70,000 and also receive assembly fees when in camp, but a NRLW salary is a substantial upgrade on what players who aren’t on Black Ferns contracts receive for Super Rugby Aupiki and the second-tier Farah Palmer Cup.

By joining the Warriors, players can earn NRLW level money, without having to leave behind, or move with, their families to Australia.

“Just like with the guys, the players can stay here,” Conlon said.

“They can continue with their education, but be in programmes that are going to get them to the elite levels of the game and around family networks, that’s probably more beneficial for most.

“It will definitely be an attractive proposition for a lot of players. They’ll see it on TV and want to be out there and succeeding in a sport they love.

“Once we have confirmation we are accepted, we will look for key players and hopefully we’ll be a desirable place for some overseas players willing to relocate and have a new adventure.”

Conlon would like the Warriors to eventually also have a team in the NSW women’s league competition, so the clubs’ players can play at a high level when not selected for the NRLW team. But it would be preferable if women’s leagues in New Zealand were strong enough for players to drop into.

“In a perfect world you’d love the standard to be of a good enough quality here, that the players would fall back into that, then you can pick your pool of players from it,” Conlon said.

“I’m trying to ascertain whether that’s feasible and hopefully by having the team back in, it will attract more players, which will increase participation numbers.”

Warriors CEO Cameron George has made it clear to the NRL that the club wants back in the women’s comp in 2025 and he’s optimistic they’ll be accepted.

“They know through a proposal I’ve provided to the NRL about our future vision and that we definitely have our hands up to go in the competition,” George said.

“Given that we sit in a great market for them, were a part of the inaugural competition and only stopped because of Covid, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be back in the competition in the next intake.

“That’s why we’ve done a joint venture with the NZRL for Nadene to do this.”

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