The Newcastle Rugby League first-grade women's competition will align with the men's in 2024 as part of key changes aimed to elevate the female league, including playing their grand final at McDonald Jones Stadium.
In a boost for the women's game locally, and potentially more broadly long term, Newcastle first-grade games will now be played on men's first-grade match days.
Their finals will also be aligned and the grand finals played on the same day and at the same venue.
Women's first-grade games will also be filmed and live-streamed online next season for the first time, allowing coaches and players to review their games for further improvement.
The changes come after Newcastle Rugby League secured its first naming-rights sponsor for the women's competition in fast-food restaurant chain Oporto.
Newcastle Rugby League general manager said he believed the changes would help make the first-grade competition the best in NSW outside the NRLW and NSW Women's Premiership.
"Part of the strategy here is to elevate this competition to just that," he said.
"That's why it's so good to have Oporto on board ... and it's been great that Bar TV have jumped in to help ensure all the games can be filmed. One of the great improvements we can offer is, during the week all the women can be coached based on clips cut from the week before's games, and that hasn't been able to happen before."
First grade had seven teams last season. All but one were district clubs - clubs in the men's competition. Other women's sides in second division can apply to enter first grade, which will run for 14 or 15 weeks plus finals in 2024. It will start late April after the conclusion of the under-18s Tarsha Gale Cup, which the Knights play in.
The local changes come as the NSW Women's Premiership moves to later in the year to align with the NRLW, which starts in late July.
The NSW Women's Premiership has previously been held in the months before the NRLW, and some NRLW players did play in it.
But it now essentially becomes a genuine week-to-week reserve grade for players who don't feature in NRLW matches to play in.
NRLW clubs had a squad of 24 players last season, as well as four development players. Just on those numbers, not accounting for injuries, 10 players were potentially going without a game each week.
Devich said it remains to be seen whether any of the Knights' NRLW squad would feature in the local competition, given it will party run before the NRLW pre-season, but he believes the new schedule creates a pathway for local players to strive for the higher leagues.
"From a long-term point of view, the idea is to elevate the premier competition to attract more players, better players, that would run into [NSW Women's Premiership] and NRLW," he said.
"The fact that we've got 15 open-age women's teams, shows that there is a real interest and grow in the women's space.
"We just think it's time to elevate that competition, so it looks like a real pathway through to the Knights."