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National Women's League is a proven pathway

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As the best women’s football talent gets ready for the start of the National Women’s League (NWL) this weekend, they will be approaching the competition knowing it leads to bigger opportunities.

The NWL was increased to a double round in 2018 and New Zealand Football is keen to continue the success of the league as a proven pathway from domestic to international football for players, coaches and referees.

A total of eight players - Anna Green, Sarah Gregorius, Annalie Longo, Stephanie Skilton, Nadia Olla, Paige Satchell, Sarah Morton and Victoria Esson - from the Football Ferns FIFA Women’s World Cup squad competed in the National Women’s League in 2018.

Almost all of NZ U-20 coach Gemma Lewis’ squad - 16 of the 19 players at the OFC U-19 Championship on at the moment in the Cook Islands - have been starting players for their NWL sides.

Last year, all of the New Zealand U-17 team who famously became the first New Zealand national team to claim a bronze medal in a FIFA event, all came from the NWL.

Since the inception of the Future Ferns Domestic Programme (FFDP) there have been nine players graduate to their first professional contracts around the world. Eight out of these nine players came from the NWL.

Lewis, who is in the Cook Islands preparing for the OFC U-19 Championship Final against New Caledonia tomorrow, said the quality of the National Women’s League has improved significantly over time.

"The National Women’s League has developed a huge amount in recent years," she said. "The step up to a double round improved the credibility of the competition last year and it will be good to see the competition continue to grow. It is a great competition for all of our younger players to learn and improve so they are ready for opportunities at a national level or on a professional contract overseas.

"We know we need more of our best players in professional environments to improve them as players and the NWL gives them the foundation to be able to grow and develop to be ready for that step."

There has also been considerable success in the coaching ranks. Lewis, who led Auckland to the title in 2017 when they defeated the Canterbury United Pride away from home in the final, has been on a steady climb in her coaching career. The former Northern Lights coach is now the FFDP Manager, NZ U-20 Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the Football Ferns. In 2018, she was picked by FIFA to be part of an elite coach mentorship programme.

Lewis is not the only example. Gareth Turnbull, who coached the Canterbury United Pride to success, went on to be the manager of the FFDP and Assistant Coach of the Ferns and is now an assistant coach of the

Melbourne Victory W-League side. Wellington’s Emma Evans, who was the Head Coach of Capital Football, is now the Women’s Football Development Officer with Oceania Football.

The same applies to the referees around New Zealand. Three referees have begun in the National Women’s League and progressed to FIFA tournaments around the world.

New Zealand’s No 1 female referee Anna-Marie Keighley began in the NWL in 2009 and has gone on officiate in seven FIFA events on the world stage.

Sarah Jones and Nadia Browning began in the NWL in 2011. Jones has refereed at five FIFA events, while Browning made her FIFA debut at the 2014 Youth Olympics.

A host of others - Morgan Archer, Lisa Benson, Courteney Bremner, Mel Knight, Hilary Osborne, Beth Rattray and Heloise Simons - have all gone from officiating on the NWL to OFC events.

The National Women’s League as a pathway for players, coaches and referees to go from the grassroots local football to the world stage is working.

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