SYDNEY (Reuters) - Women's rugby in Australia will emerge fully from the amateur era on Friday night when the sixth season of the six-team Super W gets underway with New South Wales Waratahs taking on Western Force at Sydney Football Stadium.
Crucially this season, every player in the competition will receive A$4,000 ($2,692.80) per match on top of any club payments as part of Rugby Australia's initial $2 million investment in the women's game under a five-year plan.
Players who represent Australia's Wallaroos test team will be able to earn up to A$52,000 in RA payments this season, hardly life-changing money but a great improvement on just a few years ago.
"Everyone's getting on board with women's rugby now," Queensland Reds captain Shannon Parry said at the launch of what she described as a "semi-professional" competition in Sydney.
"I think it's a long time coming, to be honest, if you look at, like, four or five years ago when Super W started, it was just this programme on the side, now it's the pinnacle of women's rugby in Australia.
"It's a lot better than 12 months ago, where people had to juggle jobs and take leave without pay. It's a massive step forward for the game."
Parry started off as an amateur, combining her teaching career with training for Australia's Sevens team at a satellite camp in Brisbane.
The Sevens programme turned professional a decade ago and Parry was part of the team who vindicated that decision by winning the inaugural Olympic women's competition at the Rio Summer Games in 2016.
In fifteens, Parry first played for Australia at the women's World Cup in 2010 when the Wallaroos finished third. Last year in New Zealand, she was part of an Australia team thrashed in the quarter-finals by a fully-professional England side.
The 33-year-old flanker believes that full professionalism is the only way to go to compete with the likes of the Red Roses, New Zealand and France, which will be particularly important when Australia host the 2029 women's World Cup.
"If I think back to 2014 when we went full time for the Sevens, we knew we had to do it to be a chance of winning that gold medal in Rio," she added.
"I think that's the situation we're in with fifteens in Australia, you need to put the money and the resources in to get the long-term goal.
"Rugby Australia have made that landmark statement that we do want to be competitive in 2025 and in 2029. We're on that trajectory, jump on board, we're off."
Parry's Reds, third last year, open their Super W campaign on the road against the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday after the Fijiana Drua host the ACT Brumbies in Nadi, Fiji.
The Drua won the title at the first attempt last year by stunning the powerhouse Waratahs, who had won the first four editions of the competition.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by ...)