Young Northland female athletes now have a pathway to professionalism on the rugby field.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will contract the top 30 women players in the country, meaning the likes of Northlanders Portia Woodman, Charmaine Smith, Aleisha Nelson and Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali will be compensated for their efforts on and off the playing strip.
Northland under-15 women's coach Belinda Edwards said the new contracts will attract more young players to the already growing game in the region.
"I've had a number of girls that I coach, particularly in sevens, ask time and time again about what the pathway is going forward," she said.
"A lot of them play more than just rugby and now there is potential for professionalism for them it will steer more of them towards rugby rather than other ones that are already professional.
"Particularly after the Kerikeri Condor Sevens success, we've had a number of girls around Northland interested in taking up rugby and sevens.
"For the first time in a long time we have the junior club sevens series from under-11 through to under-17 girls. Previously we didn't have enough interest to have all the grades there."
The top seven players will receive a retainer of $20,000, with a further seven gaining $17,500, another seven $15,000 and the remaining nine players $12,500 each.
Further to that, players selected to the Black Ferns squad will assemble for about 50 days a year for training camps and fixtures for which they will be paid $2000 a week, adding a further $14–15,000 to their potential earnings.
Also included is a parental policy which allows for players who return to the programme after having a baby to have a support person of their choice travel with them to look after their child during squad assembly.
Edwards coached the Kerikeri High School under-15 Condor Sevens side that won their division in 2017.
She said with the rise and success of sevens and union by New Zealand sides they are finding more players than ever.
"We've only ever had a Northland under-18 side and now we've got an under-15 side which we haven't had before," she said.
"There's a bigger player pool in under-15s than under-18s and now there's a big player base in the under-11s. That grade captures the girls who can't play union with the boys any more.
"There is a lot of talent lying around in Northland. Now they can see how the game is growing and the professionalism potential in future, we may see them move away from other sports.
"Not that we want to limit them to one sport, but this opens a new door."
Smith, a former Whangarei Girls High School pupil and now a Black Fern lock, said the contracts are a great step forward for the women's game.
"I'm really happy with this development. It's really exciting for women's rugby, not only in New Zealand, but around the world," she said.
"It's a huge step forward in terms of professionalism. We never played the game because we wanted to be paid but the services and contract they're now offering is a great incentive for us in our quest to be the best.
"It shows a pathway and young players can see rugby as another sport they can go through towards professionalism with not just sevens but fifteens now."
Smith, who works as a police officer out of the Mt Wellington Station, said the contracts will allow her to move off the night shift and get to more trainings.
She said they'll allow Black Ferns to help with developing the game on the grassroots scale but this is only the beginning for them.
"At the moment with full-time shift work, I don't have a lot of opportunities to head back up home but hopefully with the contracts I'll be up in Northland more often," Smith said.
"This is a really great start for us but we need more people to come watch us and we need more test match opportunities to grow the game."