The Women’s Super League South will return for its third season in 2023, boosted by the addition of a seventh club in the Thurrock T-Birds, and by confirmation of the competition’s place in the national pyramid structure that will be introduced for Women’s Rugby League from 2024.
Thurrock RFC have run a successful women’s rugby union set-up in Essex since 1988, claiming the Championship 1 South title for the fifth time in six years last May, and the RFL have accepted their application to join the WSL South in 2023.
They will play home matches at Long Lane in Grays, kicking off with a home game on Saturday May 27 against the British Army – who were runners-up to Cardiff Demons in the WSL South’s inaugural season in 2021.
The Demons, who retained their crown in 2022 by beating London Broncos in the Grand Final, will launch their defence the following weekend at home to Bristol Golden Ferns, while Bedford Tigers host Oxford Cavaliers on May 27, and the Broncos begin their league campaign at home to Bedford on June 11.
Each of the seven teams will play the other six with the seven-round league programme concluding on the weekend of August 5-6, after which the top four will qualify for Semi Finals on August 13, with the Grand Final on August 27.
From 2024, the Betfred Women’s Super League will expand to an eight-team competition, underpinned by four feeder leagues in North, Roses (existing clubs from the BWSL, Championship and League One across the M62 corridor), Midlands and South – establishing a pathway for ambitious clubs from all parts of the UK to earn promotion to the elite level.
The RFL recently wrote to the 12 clubs who will play in the BWSL in 2023 confirming that two clubs from Group 2 will be promoted to join the six in Group 1 in the eight-team competition in 2024, with the remaining four joining the Roses feeder league – and that additional regulation will also be introduced at that point including around player payments, following the emphasis on player welfare and facilities that has been the focus through the development of the BWSL over the last five years.
Cardiff Demons and London Broncos will have the chance to test their credentials in the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup this season, with both clubs involved in the group stage with the existing 12 BWSL clubs – the Broncos having been drawn in a group including the holders St Helens, and the Demons relishing the prospect of taking on Wigan Warriors.
Thomas Brindle, the RFL’s Head of Growth and General Manager of the BWSL, said: “National expansion has been part of our strategy for Women’s and Girls’ Rugby League since the introduction of the Women’s Super League in 2017. We have already seen the benefits in the two seasons of the Women’s Super League South, in terms of talented athletes from different parts of the country who can enhance the England programmes – and also in the development of Wales as international rivals to England.
“Now, on the back of the Rugby League World Cup last autumn which drove unprecedented media coverage and awareness for Women’s Rugby League, we are excited by the introduction of a national pyramid for 2024, providing a possible route to elite competition for players and clubs from all parts of the country.
“All of the regional leagues will be underpinned by girls’ future hubs at under-14s and under-16s level, and a separate programme aimed at girls aged 7-11.
“Before that, the 2023 season will represent another step forward for the Women’s Super League South with the debut of a seventh club in Thurrock T-Birds, and also the participation of Cardiff Demons and London Broncos in the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup.”
Jodie Cunningham, the St Helens and England star who is the RFL’s National Women and Girls’ Development Manager, added: “The Women’s Super League South is such an important part of our plans for the development and growth of Women’s and Girls’ Rugby League, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.
“The six teams who have played in the first two seasons of the competition have shown so much enthusiasm and passion for the sport, and it’s fantastic that Thurrock, a club with such a strong pedigree in women’s rugby union, have joined up for 2023.”