It's just over a month to the day that the NRL and RLPA announced that an in principle agreement had been reached on key terms for the NRLW Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Great. So where's the final agreement and what could possibly be taking so long?
I'm not privy to any information as to why the final agreement is taking so long. Potentially either the NRL or RLPA are trying to introduce new terms or new concepts into the final CBA. This to me signals bad faith negotiation as by the time an in principle agreement is reached, the agreement should be pretty close to final. The time to introduce new concepts has well and truly passed.
There is also an argument that it is worth investing the time into this CBA to get it right, as it will likely be the baseline for future negotiation of the CBA.
This is sensible, but the date of expiry of the existing CBA was a known factor. It was back in November 2022. Both parties knew about this deadline and should have been working towards it. This work should have been done last year and it is unacceptable that negotiations continue to drag on now.
Because no matter how well-intentioned either party is, the people that the protracted negotiations are having the biggest impact on are the players. Players who time and time again have been told that they need to make sacrifices for 'the good of the game'.
But rather than speculate any further on why final agreement is taking so long, my main concern is the impact that these long delays have had on the NRLW playing group.
Unlike the male players, who can continue to rely on the terms of the expired CBA, the women, who are on season-to-season contracts, do not have this option, placing them in an extremely precarious position.
Last week it was reported that Tayla Curtis, who plays for the Cronulla Sharks in the Harvey Norman Women's Premiership, ruptured her ACL.
What this now means for Curtis is that she is unlikely to secure an NRLW contract for this season. It would be financially irresponsible for a club to sign an injured player with such a tight salary cap, particularly an untested player like Curtis. Not only does this result in a loss of contract (and the financial benefit from that contract) for Curtis, but may also impact Curtis's ability to do her job away from rugby league.
This is a devastating result for a young woman and all because the NRL and RLPA have not been able to reach final agreement.
Other players have already made challenging decisions to protect themselves. Several players withdrew from the All Stars fixture (including Newcastle Knights fullback Tamika Upton) and others have reduced their training commitments with their Harvey Norman team because their focus is their financial position and ensuring that they are able to secure an NRLW contract.
Women who are still not considered full time professional athletes, should not have to deal with this level of insecurity.
When it comes to pay, one of the criticisms so frequently generated at women's sport is 'how much revenue does (in this case) the NRLW bring in'.
My response to that is that whilst the players are expected to perform on the field and act as positive ambassadors for theirs clubs and the game, that this 'generation of revenue' really isn't their job. It is the job of the NRL and the clubs.
This prolonged negotiation means that clubs cannot officially sign players so the process for securing sponsorship, particularly for individual players cannot really kick off yet.
For each club, it would be extremely beneficial for them to be able to announced marquee signings and begin to generate interest around their squads.
This is impossible at the moment and means that the timeframes for clubs preparing themselves for the upcoming season just continue to be squeezed.
This season is slated to be 20 weeks, with nine regular season games, semi-finals, a Grand Final, seven weeks of pre-season and two weeks leave.
Assuming that the NRLM and NRLW Grand Final will align, this means that we should be expecting the pre-season to start in May.
That's less than two months away and in that two months, the clubs have a lot of work to do.
Not only do they need to sign players and finalise their squads, but the players need to be welcomed to their new clubs, establish training regimes and begin preparing for the season. Then, the clubs will need to ensure they have the correct facilities, uniforms and other back office functions in place required for an NRLW team.
This will be a lot harder for the newer clubs who will inevitably have teething problems in their first season. No matter how well-intentioned and how well prepared, the introduction of a new team into a club will no doubt raise some new opportunities and challenges to consider.
The Raiders are a club that have already raised some challenges with their facilities, particularly if double headers are to be played at GIO Stadium and the Sharks may also face similar challenges with their facilities at Shark Park.
It is so disappointing to see negotiations continue to drag on. At a point where fans should start to get excited about squads and players, there is nothing but uncertainty.
Expanding a competition is a wonderful and exciting time in sport. But if you don't have the building blocks in place to effectively support this expansion, there's almost no point.
In my view a CBA is one of these building blocks and it's crucial that the NRL and RLPA reach agreement immediately.