Queensland Rugby League has announced a new structure for its statewide competitions, aiming to provide opportunities for both male and female players. Starting in the 2024 season, the Under 21 male competition will be eliminated, and the Cyril Connell Challenge and Mal Meninga Cup competitions will be shifted to the Under 17 and Under 19 age groups. In addition, a new Under 17 girls competition will be introduced to support the existing Harvey Norman Under 19s. These changes will allow for future expansion and growth in both female competitions.
To support the new structure, the Future Maroons Academy will be established to support the City/Country Under 17 and Ruby/Sapphires Under 19 programs. This will provide crucial development opportunities for aspiring male and female players. The decision to elevate the under-age male competitions aligns with similar junior representative programs in New South Wales, as well as the proposed Under 17 interstate game and existing Under 19 clash.
In order to compensate for the removal of Under 21s, the Under 19 male competition will be played over an extended period, consisting of a proposed 10 round season and four-week finals series. This change ensures that talented players in this age group still have a platform to showcase their skills. Both male competitions will also continue to accommodate school competitions, as these play an integral role in the existing player pathway.
According to QRL Chief Executive Officer Ben Ikin, these changes will enable clubs to focus even more on talent development and specialisation. The revamped competitions will provide a pathway for the best 20 and 21-year-old players to progress to the Hostplus Cup and BMD Premiership. Data suggests that the majority of players in this age group have already been identified and are either contracted by NRL or NRL Development, or are Hostplus Cup and BMD Premiership players.
In addition to benefitting individual players, the changes in competition structure aim to strengthen community rugby league. By aligning with their community league affiliates, statewide competition clubs will have a better opportunity to contribute to and support grassroots rugby league.
It is important to note that players who require more time to develop still have a pathway to open age QRL statewide competitions through local senior grade competitions in their area. This ensures that talent will continue to be nurtured and given opportunities to progress and succeed.
The changes to the competition structures are further supported by development programs for younger players. The 13-15 year old programs currently being delivered around the state will play a critical role in talent identification for the Under 17 boys and girls competitions. These programs, including the upcoming rebel Development Series games in the school holidays, will continue to be a vital part of the player pathway and talent development process.