Storm sets sights on south-east

Female Pakenham Eels players such as Ariana Gesi will soon be under the watchful eye of Melbourne Storm talent scouts. 411611 Picture: MICHAEL WINTER

By Tara Murray

Melbourne Storm is targeting Melbourne’s south-east as it forms its inaugural Storm female development program.

Following the success of the Female Footy Festival held at the State Rugby League and Community Centre in Broadmeadows, the Storm is now establishing a new pathway for female players born in 2008 and 2009.

The Storm is holding three combines, the first of which was in Broadmeadows on Sunday 9 June.

The Storm west hub was held in Wyndham on June 16, while the southeast hub combine will be held at Casey Fields on Sunday June 23.

Rugby League in Melbourne’s south-east has taken off in recent times, with the Pakenham Eels and Casey Warriors becoming key players in the NRL Victoria landscape.

Casey Fields has long been regarded as a crucial facility for the growth of rugby league in the region, while the Pakenham Eels new home ground at Comely Banks Reserve has already hosted some key events on the NRL Victoria schedule.

Storm’s female pathway program manager Pauline Poloai said the initiative is exciting.

“There are 1300 females playing the game of rugby league in Victoria,” she said.

“We know there are girls wanting to aspire to play NRLW.

“This Is a starting point of introducing females to our Storm family.”

Poloai said the Storm was preparing to launch an NRLW team for the 2028 season and they wanted to build the foundations now to get more Victorian females playing.

The three combine testing days gives the development squad selectors an opportunity to assess some key areas.

They will identify the top 30 players and they will be part of a 12-week program overseen by Melbourne Storm coaches and staff, before heading off on a three-day tour of New South Wales for trial matches.

“There will be off field education,” she said.

“We’ll also teach them the Storm system.”

Poloai said they had development programs for the men’s side, now they were looking to implement that for women.

She said they had targeted areas where they know there’s a lot of females playing the sport.

Poloai said it was important to have Victorian-born players as part of the Storm’s female program.

Just five Victorian-born players have played for the Storm in the NRL; four from the Hume municipality.

“This comes off the back of these development programs,” she said.

“These programs give kids a first-hand look to see what the Storm program is.

“We have got some good talent in the north and also in the west and south.”

Storm chief executive Justin Rodski said the new development program will help the club lay the foundations for a pathway to NRLW.

“This is an exciting time for the female game in Victoria and we are ready to find the best young talent in the state,” he said.

“We want to give Victorian players the chance to play at the highest level, whether they come from rugby league or other codes.

“We know there is a lot of work to do to get the pathways rights, develop the talent we have in Victoria and have the facilities in place for our girls to train and play.

“We can’t do that alone and will be working with our commercial and government partners to give our female future stars the best possible chance to wear the purple jersey in the future.”