Without an estimated $1.5 million from the NRL to pay female player wages, clubs will struggle to field teams in 2020, an NRLW official says.
Brisbane's NRLW boss Tain Drinkwater believes the time is right for the NRL to consider covering the women's salary cap for this year and beyond while major reconfigurations are being made on the cost structure of rugby league.
As it stands, all four NRLW clubs - Brisbane, St George Illawarra, Warriors and Sydney Roosters - all foot the bill to put teams on the paddock, including player salaries, travel, accommodation and training costs.
However, the entire competition is now in doubt with no guarantee the games will recommence this season.
And while all 16 NRL clubs are struggling under threat from the coronavirus crisis, those with NRLW teams have a greater financial commitment to the sport and the future of the women's game.
"There's a real opportunity now for the NRL to get on the front foot and design a program that recognises equity, and design a program that supports clubs that have a women's team and a men's team that stand side by side," Drinkwater told AAP.
"If the NRL can get ahead of that, in terms of their reputation, in terms of rebuilding the game, it only has an upside for them.
"If they could get out there and verbalise that commitment, you'll find society and community gets behind them more than they currently are."
Drinkwater said the Broncos, who have won the past two titles, are committed to the NRLW although they are also struggling.
It's estimated clubs spend up to $500,000 per season to fund their NRLW teams, and last year the Broncos spent around $200,000 on player payments alone, with contracts worth between $4000 and $10,000.
The competition was due for expansion in 2020 with the season to start in August, which all but doubled the cost for clubs, depending on home games and potential for revenue.
While acknowledging the men's game is the main revenue driver, Drinkwater appeals to the NRL to get creative and consider whether a greater investment in the women's game would reap greater results.
"It's appropriate that we understand the NRL are the key revenue drivers for the game as the game currently stands, but again, that's steeped in history and that's just our fundamental belief that that's the case," she said.
"Why can't that change?
"You've got 50 per cent of a population that is female who have an appetite for women in sport and they typically hold the purse strings for discretionary spend.
"So what are we doing to tap into that population, just from a female sport perspective?
"It's about making sure we're continuing to have those conversations because we've worked so hard to get where we are now, it would be easy to be forgotten."
Australian Associated Press