Country Rugby League has announce former Newcastle Knight head coach Rick Stone will guide the CRL Newcastle Women’s team into their 2019 campaign in the NSWRL Women’s Premiership.

Stone, who also has commanding roles at the Huddersfield Giants and with the Fiji Bati National Team on his resume, will take charge of the side for the 2019 season to focus on “continually developing pathways for female participants in the Newcastle, Upper Hunter, Central Coast and Group 21 regions”.

“Women’s rugby league is evolving at a rapid rate and I’ve been really impressed by the enthusiasm the players have for the game,” Stone said after his appointment into the hot-seat.

“The CRL Newcastle team sits at the top of a growing pathway for female participants in this region and provides a great opportunity for players to progress from local to state-based competition and hopefully put themselves in contention for Origin, Jillaroos or NRL representation.

“There is so much talent within this area and I want to see home-grown players putting their hand up to be involved. It’s a new challenge for me and I’m really looking forward to being involved.”

Stone will be joined by Newcastle Rugby League identity and Newcastle Knights Life Member Mark Wright and regarded Remedial Sports Therapist Cathy Zontos in a new look coaching and support staff for the elite women’s representative team.

With a host of current Australian Jillaroos, NSW Women’s Origin and NRLW stars on the CRL Newcastle roster for the upcoming season, Stone will be working with some of the brightest female rugby league talent in Australia including Isabelle Kelly, Hannah Southwell, Holli Wheeler, Mel Howard and Rebecca Young.

It’s a development conveyor belt Country Rugby League are eager to see grow further, CRL Newcastle operational manager Mitchell Quinn said, as they look to provide an “unbroken pathway” to the top.

“The implementation of the Central Hunter Combined Women’s Competition this season added considerable depth to the CRL Newcastle team and now provides an unbroken pathway for over 900 players from Under-14’s right through to the NSW Women’s Premiership,” Quinn said.

“We saw players like Hannah Southwell and Holli Wheeler progress from CRL Newcastle to NSW Women’s State of Origin, NRLW and Australian Jillaroos debut’s this year, so the incentive for players to be involved and strive for higher honours is clear.”