‘Hugely important’: Wallaroos hail Rugby Australia’s huge step forward after multi-million dollar deal


Eight months after being called out for a lack of equality and opportunity, Rugby Australia took another step forward on Monday in moving their Wallaroos program closer to full-time professionalism.

Under the stands of Allianz Stadium by their headquarters in Moore Park, the cash-strapped organisation announced they had secured Cadbury as their principal partner on a five-year deal.

After years of underinvestment in the 15-a-side game, The Roar understands the announcement is a multi-million dollar deal that will edge towards seven figures per year by the time the 2029 Rugby World Cup arrives on Australian shores.

It’s a huge boost for the Wallaroos, who are slowly but surely being given the same opportunity their sisters from the national sevens program were afforded a decade ago that helped Tim Walsh guide Australia to Olympic gold in Rio.

“It’s hugely important,” Rugby Australia chief-executive Phil Waugh told reporters on Monday.

“We grew 16 per cent in the community game for female participation, we’ve grown investment 61 per cent in the last 12 months into professionalising the women’s game, so to have a partner like Cadbury gives profile to our players in the community.”

Rugby Australia announced Cadbury as the Wallaroos’ new principal partner on Monday. Photo: Rugby Australia

The added investment is the latest step in the right direction for the Wallaroos and follows the announcement of Jaime Fernandez as high performance manager last August and Jo Yapp as the side’s first full-time coach in December.

It also comes just eight months after the Wallaroos hit out via social media complaining of a lack of investment and promotion compared with their male pears.

In particular, a letter sent out on social media and shared widely by the playing group pointed at the mouthwatering $5m deal given to Joseph Suaalii and the absence of a full-time program in the women’s game.

Waugh, who had just taken over as CEO when the Wallaroos hit out at the governing body, described the announcement as “progress” from last year’s messy scenes.

“We’ve still got some way to go, but it’s certainly progress,” he said.

“We always said we’d invest in three stages into professionalising the women’s game to hopefully get to fulltime Wallaros. This is part of that journey.

“The relationship that we have with the players is a strong one.

“The more we invest and put the right support structures around the team, it’s not just about paying players but putting that professional environment around our athletes.”

Kaitlan Leaney celebrates during the Wallaroos’ WXV1 win over France at Forsyth Barr Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Yapp, the former England captain, agreed.

“Being full-time is one part of that but what you need to do then is ensure there’s some really good high performance behaviours and attitudes, and that’s what we’ve been working on,” she said.

“Getting paid is one thing but we need to be able to increase that level of training intensity with it.”

Impressive Wallaroos captain Piper Duck hailed the recent announcement.

“[We’re] definitely feeling that they’ve listened. It’s already shown that there’s been such an increased investment into the Wallaroos,” Duck said.

“It’s also now time for us to really back up what we’re putting down and I’m really, really excited with the group that we have coming through and we’re absolutely stoked to show Rugby Australia and the world what we can achieve in this next coming tournament.”

Eva Karpani and Piper Duck (C) celebrate the announcement of Cadbury as their new Principal Partner on Monday in Sydney. Photo: Rugby Australia

Despite the progress, the Wallaroos program has yet to become fully professional.

Waugh was reluctant to put a timeline on when that would occur, but emphasised the need for added investment ahead of the home World Cup in 2029.

“We need to aspire to that [professionalism by 2029],” Waugh said. “To perform in 2029, you’ve got to be investing now.

“Ideally, we can accelerate full-time Wallaroos as soon as we can.”

He added: “We saw the power of a home world cup in another sport last year and going deep into the tournament, and we know that we have to perform now and invest now to get the benefits in 2029.”

Meanwhile, as the Waratahs and Fijiana Drua prepare to meet in the Super W final at Ballymore on Sunday in a repeat of the 2022 final, Waugh said the governing body remained interested in having crossover fixtures with New Zealand’s Aupiki competition.

“It’s certainly on the radar, it’s what is the right timeline,” he said.

“The better we get and the more competitive we come, the more compelling that proposition is with New Zealand.”

Yapp, who is preparing to name her first Wallaroos squad next week, said additional matches against top-class opposition would be beneficial to their World Cup planning  next year.

“I think we’re all aware that the girls need more competitive games,” she said.

“The five games have been great, they’ve built, but it’s almost like you need a couple more because you can see the standard has risen. Having any extra competitive fixtures is only a good thing.”

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