Hannah Southwell, pictured here playing for the St George Dragons in last year's inaugural NRL Womens competition, is one of three Novocastrian stars to be awarded a new-look NRL contract deal in 2019. Image via NRL Media.

Newcastle trio Isabelle Kelly, Hannah Southwell and Holli Wheeler have been named as three of 19 of the country’s leading rugby league players, and will be awarded a slice of $750,000 to continue playing the nationally and internationally.

After feedback from the inaugural season of the National Rugby League Women’s premier competition, the NRL has reduced the number of players in the women’s elite squad to 19, cutting the cohort down from the 40 it had in its ranks in 2018.

Kelly, Southwell and Wheeler – who are all currently undertaking a campaign in the NSW Women’s Premiership for local side CRL Newcastle – were three of the roster named to receive central contracts, and will now take away a larger share of the women’s games collective bargaining agreement in 2019.

Isabelle Kelly has been named as one of 19 players set for a new-look NRL contract in 2019. She was honoured as the best women’s player in the world at the end of 2018 with the Golden Boot. Image via Sydney Roosters.

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The NRL has looked to adopt a similar contracting model to that of Cricket Australia’s, focusing on incentives to keep rising stars and established veterans in the game through subsidied pay packets that increase their ability to play rugby league for a living.

The new 2019 contract model has been confirmed to include individual and team coaching costs, wellbeing and education services, as well as leadership and develop training camps for the 19 rugby league superstars.

Holli Wheeler represented the Dragons in 2018 in the very first NRL Womens competition in Australia.

NRL’s general manger of the Women’s Elite Program, Tiffany Slater said the contracts were handed out based on “player’s work on and off the field over several months”.

“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,” she 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.”

NSW Origin winning skipper Maddie Studdon was one of the big names skipped over for the 2019 NRL contracts.

With the scrapping of the 40-player model, many big names were dropped off the halved list. Notable exclusions include 2017 World Cup winning captain Ruan Sims, and encumbent NSW Origin skipper Maddie Studdon. Both represented the Sydney Roosters in the NRLW last year, falling in the grand final to the Brisbane Broncos.

Full list of female players to receive NRL contracts: 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.