Australia's world champion women's sevens team are embracing the "fiery tension" created by interest in rugby's top talent from rival codes.
Rugby Australia is still chafing from revelations some of their top players are entertaining dreams of playing in the inaugural season of the NRL Women's Premiership.
Charlotte Caslick is just one of the players interested in dipping their toes into rugby league. Caslick's management proposed a flexible contract of sorts for the high profile athlete, allowing her to make a three-month foray into the rival code before returning to sevens for the two-year run-up to the Tokyo Olympics.
The proposal was rubbished by Rugby Australia administrators and met with widespread disbelief that Australia's professionally paid Olympic champions would even entertain a spell in the four-week NRLW.
But on the eve of the Australian team's departure for the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco, senior squad members told Fairfax Media they welcomed the arrival of another code and believed competition was a good thing for rugby.
"It means that the market is getting bigger, it means that women can now go in and fight for a bit more money because there are things and people wanting you to play elsewhere," Australian co-captain Sharni Williams said.
"There's going to be lots of chat but it's exciting for our game that there are more and more sports challenging us because it means that women's sport is growing and evolving in Australia and that's what we want."
The issue is a thorny one for RA, who feel they have heavily invested in the current crop of players since the program turned professional in 2014. At that time, players moved down for a promise of $10,000 a year and the chance to go to the Olympics. Last year RA and the players' union agreed on entry level pay equality between the men and women. Now, the top women's sevens players can earn upwards of $100,000 when government-funded incentives are factored in.
Senior player Alicia Quirk said interest from the NRLW and AFLW – former Australian sevens player Chloe Dalton is playing for Carlton in the VFLW this season – would keep players and governing bodies on their toes.
"Any competitiveness makes for better quality players. You have to be at the peak of your game in your sport if someone wants to try to pinch you from another sport," Quirk said.
"I hope that it doesn't become a nasty [process] of competing against each other, but that it's just about taking the best and highlighting the best. That way it puts the onus back on each individual sport to look after their own product, market it really well and make their athletes feel that they're part of the product so they'll stay within that game."
The entire women's squad is off contract and have decided to delay signing their new contracts, tabled by RA two weeks ago, until after San Francisco. Quirk said the players wanted to see the game – well established on the world circuit – grow at home.
"I think we're working towards it, most definitely," she said. "It's been a long track but I think there's definitely areas of improvement within Rugby Australia. That's where that fiery tension comes from with other sports wanting to have a crack at some of the big stars. You have to keep everyone on their toes and pushing to be at their best."
Australia womens Sevens for World Cup
Lauren Brown, Charlotte Caslick, Emilee Cherry, Ellia Green, Demi Hayes, Page McGregor, Yasmin Meakes, Shannon Parry (c), Evania Pelite, Alicia Quirk, Cassie Staples, Emma Tonegato, Sharni Williams (c).
Australia mens Sevens for World Cup
Lachlan Anderson, Tim Anstee, Lewis Holland (c), Henry Hutchison, Boyd Killingworth, Maurice Longbottom, Tom Lucas, Liam McNamara, Sam Myers, Ben ODonnell, Jesse Parahi, John Porch, Brandon Quinn.
Georgina Robinson is a Sports Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald
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