"We can gain more than what we can lose": Manenti supports stars contemplating NRLW stints

International
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Aussie women's Sevens coach John Manenti says his side has "more to gain than to lose" if a handful of their players try their hand in the NRLW this season.

Reports out of the NRL on Thursday suggested that some of the Sevens' most high-profile players, including Charlotte Caslick and Ellia Green, had sounded out rugby league clubs about an NRLW stint this year with the Sevens season on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia's Sevens players are currently on an average 60 per cent pay cut across the board until September 30.under the agreement struck between the Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) and Rugby Australia in April.

While Super Rugby players this week had their pay cuts reduced to just 30 per cent, with the remainder of the 2019-20 World Series cancelled, the Sevens players weren't part of that change.

The majority of the squad's big names are off-contract as of August 31, with deals structured around the Tokyo Olympics, before that tournament was postponed.

New contract discussions have begun with those players but no deals can be finalised until October 1.

Even then, it could be months before an international Sevens tournament is able to be run given international travel restrictions that are still in place.

If the 2020-21 World Series kicks off as planned, the Dubai Sevens would be at the start of December, making it close to a year between tournaments for some of the Aussie players.

Manenti confirmed that senior members of his squad had approached him about the possibility of playing in the NRLW competition and he was supportive of that option for them.

"As players, it's really important that they're playing competitive and playing games," he said.

"We're talking about what I certainly think are some of the best football athletes in the world, I have no doubt that they're capable of going to the NRLW and doing well, doing really well, and standing out.

"It's also challenging themselves to a different game, to more players on the field with less pace, improving their collision skills.

"There's a lot to gain out of it for these girls and it's a rare opportunity given that our circumstances here at RA - things aren't great financially and the girls have obviously taken a fair hit in the pay packet.

"It's a good opportunity to let them go and cash in on their hard work and in most cases, these girls that are looking, they have been going for five or six years of professional sport and being able to roll into trying something different could be a good opportunity."

Manenti said the unique circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic and the Olympic postponement meant that he had to be more open-minded about his players' options.

"If we haven't had COVID, if funds were good, if everything was well, we wouldn't be having this discussion,' he said.

"The girls are happy, the big prize is the Olympics but the goal posts have moved for these girls, and we're only talking about three or four girls who have achieved plenty for us, and the change has taken its toll on them.

"It's knocked them around and I think it'd be great just to give them a different stimulus for a while, but make no mistake this is a definitely strong move from us for them to be better in Tokyo in 2021."

Where rugby league and rugby are often at loggerheads when it comes to talent in the men's game, Manenti said he saw the option as beneficial for all parties.

"I want them to like it, I'm not sending them there for punishment, I'm sending them to learn and come back better athletes and possibly to show people how actually good they are and how strong athletes these girls are and reinforce that probably from my mind why I think some of these football athletes we have are the best in the world, across codes," he said.

"I think they're all girls capable of showing that.

"I'm quite excited by the fact they're going to have a different stimulus. I suppose, sometimes you have to give them a bit of an opportunity to grow and experience other things.".

"I'm not concerned and I think we can gain more than what we can lose."

The NRLW competition, which involves the Broncos, Roosters, Warriors and Dragons, kicks off in September with the grand final on October 25.

Most of the NRLW players are only contracted for the season but a host of Australian players are on longer ambassadorial deals, including Wallaroos and Broncos player Millie Boyle.

Even if some Aussie Sevens played in that tournament, they would still have more than six months of an uninterrupted into the postponed Tokyo Games.

The women's Sevens program has been given a guarantee of centralisation beyond 2021, meaning that the squad will remain full-time and based out of Sydney.

That certainty, which came in part because of funding that the program received after their 2016 Rio gold medal, has Manenti confident that any NRLW stint would only be temporary.

"At the end of the day, obviously there's not much to keep them away from us beyond the NRLW season," he said.

"It's not like we're really having to worry about competing with them re-signing in the NRLW."

A cross-code move isn't new for the Aussie Sevens. Chloe Dalton left the team in 2017 and went on to play in the AFLW for Carlton this season.

Dalton re-signed with the Sevens for Tokyo 2020 and returned to training in Sydney during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Manenti said he was also looking for opportunities for the remaining members of the squad to get some competitive rugby, whether that is playing XVs or in the upcoming Shute Shield Sevens.