Sam Bremner might not play this season but the pregnant Jillaroos captain is one of 19 players awarded increased central contracts as part of a revamped elite women’s program for 2019.
After considering feedback from the game's female stars, the NRL has reduced the number of players in the elite squad from 40 to 19, who stand to earn a bigger slice of the $750,000 allocated to the women's game each year under the collective bargaining agreement.
The NRL's contracting model, which was developed in conjunction with the RLPA, is similar to that adopted by Cricket Australia and is intended to provide incentives for players to remain in the game and increase their commitment.
The NRL does not yet have a detailed pregnancy policy but players were awarded central contracts based on their work on and off the field over the past year, and Bremner is one of the biggest names in the sport.
With a number of mothers playing in last season's Holden Women's Premiership, including five of Bremner's Dragons team-mates, the NRL and RLPA are expected to work towards formulating a maternity policy in coming seasons.
Bremner announced her pregnancy in February and will miss the Harvey Norman National Championships and Holden State of Origin, while a second season with St George Illawarra's NRLW team also appears unlikely.
She hopes to be available for the Downer World Cup Nines at Bankwest Stadium on October 18 and 19 but the new contract is not dependant on Bremner playing as it is based on training commitments and marketing requirements.
The 27-year-old, who was named as Jillaroos captain for last year's trans-Tasman Test against New Zealand but did not play due to injury, will also maintain a leadership role with the elite playing group.
Other players awarded central contracts for 2019 include inaugural Golden Boot recipient Isabelle Kelly, 2018 Dally M player of the year Brittany Breayley, NRLW premiership winning captain Ali Brigginshaw and Queensland Origin skipper Karina Brown.
Rookie Dragons trio Keeley Davis, Hannah Southwell and Holli Wheeler, who forced their way into the Jillaroos squad at the end of last season, each won NRL contracts for the first time, along with Broncos winger Julia Robinson.
Among the big names to miss out in the changing of the guard were 2017 World Cup winning captain Ruan Sims and last season's NSW Origin skipper Maddie Studdon.
NRL General Manager of the Women’s Elite Program, Tiffany Slater said players had been identified and offered contracts, based on their commitment and effort .
"This is year two of a long-term, year-long calendar of women's rugby league and we're really pleased with the level of skill and commitment that our elite female athletes continue to demonstrate – particularly the 19 that have been rewarded with central contracts," Slater said.
"As our game continues to attract new levels of fans, coverage and commercial backing, I have no doubt that we will see a greater number of elite female athletes receiving increased levels of support and contracts."
Contract benefits include individual and team coaching, wellbeing and education services and leadership and development training camps.
The full list of players awarded 2019 NRL contracts is:
Kezie Apps, Chelsea Baker, Annette Brander, Brittany Breayley, Sam Bremner, Ali Brigginshaw, Karina Brown, Keeley Davis, Vanessa Foliaki, Tazmin Gray, Isabelle Kelly, Corban McGregor, Julia Robinson, Jessica Sergis, Hannah Southwell, Simaima Taufa, Zahara Temara, Meg Ward, Holli Wheeler.