For the first time, elite female Rugby League players will receive professional contracts to represent NSW in the annual Interstate Challenge.

In a landmark decision for women’s Rugby League, the 30 players named in the NSW Women’s Pathways squad will be offered paid contracts, providing a greater opportunity for female players in NSW.

The announcement comes as the NSW Women’s Interstate Challenge side prepares to defend their title against their Queensland counterparts in Wollongong this month (23 July).

The Interstate Challenge match is the culmination of an eight-month-long development program for the NSW players who, up until now, have given their time without pay for the opportunity.

NSWRL General Manager of Football Barrie-Jon Mather believes the professional contracts are a significant step forward for women playing Rugby League in NSW.

“NSWRL is very pleased to be able to recognise the hard work, dedication and commitment of our female participants by rewarding them financially for their selection in the Interstate Challenge squad," Mather said.

"Now that we have a full women’s development pathway in place it is the right time to recognise the professionalism of everyone involved in the squad by providing payment for their services.

"It’s only right that the women should have the same opportunity to be rewarded by achieving their dreams and representing their state as the men do.”

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The contract includes match payment for the Interstate Challenge and a daily allowance during camp, allowing the players to take time off work without the financial pressure.

The longest-serving NSW player, Elliana Walton, said she couldn’t contain her emotions after receiving a contract for the first time.

“I cried when I heard the news,” Walton said. “I remember when I was first selected for NSW I had to pay to play. To now receive a contract and get paid is incredible and I can’t wait for the game.

“It’s such a historic moment for women’s Rugby League in NSW. I was over the moon and my family were just as happy when they found out.

“The Interstate Challenge game is so important for our future generations. Wearing the Blues jersey means everything to me and I hope the future generations feel the same.”

The contracts highlight the rapid rise of female participation in NSW since 2015. In two years, participation numbers have almost doubled with more than 12,000 females playing Rugby League in NSW.