NRLW risks losing its best – to WWE
RUGBY league's best female players have become the target of an unlikely rival - professional wrestling.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal Australian Jillaroos star Isabelle Kelly has been approached by talent scouts from World Wrestling Entertainment, the famed sports entertainment company owned by US billionaire Vince McMahon.
Widely regarded as among the best athletes in the NRLW competition, 23-year-old Kelly confirmed WWE officials approached her before Christmas about potentially heading to the US this year for a shock career switch.
The St George Illawarra centre also revealed wrestling scouts were now using events such as this weekend's NRL Nines tournament to hand-pick players for auditions later this year.
Quizzed on the WWE approach, Kelly said: "At the end of last year a scout reached out to see if I was interested.
"There have been no guarantees.
"But they've said if I am interested in joining the WWE, they'll take me for a trial.
"Apparently they've been watching a few of us girls, using events like the Nines to check out our potential for crossing over.
"I'm not sure who else they've spoken - and I haven't taken it any further as yet - but I've been told there are some auditions this year."
Already, several Australian athletes have broken into the WWE ranks, including Sydneysiders Billie Kay and Peyton Royce - who in 2019 spent 120 days as the WWE Women's Tag Team champions.
Certainly, it also pays better to be wrasslin' in the US than tackling with the Jillaroos.
In 2017, former UFC champion Ronda Rousey crossed over to the WWE for a reported salary of $2 million.
Fighters such as Nikki Bella and Charlotte Flair earn between $500,000 and $700,000 a year.
While yet to accept an audition spot, Kelly said the WWE approach not only confirmed the increasing interest in women's rugby league, but the talent of players involved in the NRLW competition.
Only last year, an NRL website report unveiled a raft of gym numbers for the code's best female players - which included Roosters captain Simaima Taufa squatting 160kg for three repetitions and Brisbane prop Amber Paris-Hall dead-lifting 180kg for the same.
"So just to know people are now watching us from outside what would be considered the 'normal audience' - that's pretty cool," Kelly said.
"In terms of attempting to cross over, I'm not sure how many would go.
"While I agree it's something rugby league players would be suited to, I know a lot of the girls are really dedicated to playing and growing the sport here in Australia.
"Still, it's great to know people are interested."
Asked if the potential to earn $700,000 was enticing, the Central Coast product added: "In that regard, I think the women's game is a little bit different (from the men).
"We aren't playing for the money. We're playing because we love the sport, because we want to improve the product and promote the game so one day there might be a competition for girls to play right through six years of age.
"Money has never been a big thing for us. Right now, it's been about producing a better product every year."
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