Rugby: Monumental day for women's game with steps towards fully professional Black Ferns

Women's rugby has moved one step closer to being classed as fully professional in New Zealand.

Thirty contracted Black Ferns players will receive a significant pay increase over the coming weeks, as New Zealand Rugby (NZR) prioritises the women's game.

Halfback Kendra Cocksedge has had plenty of success on the field, but this off-field victory has been years in the making.

"I never thought that, in my lifetime, I could say I was a professional athlete," Cocksedge tells Newshub. "The fact I get to do that is really exciting."

The 33-year-old has played world-class rugby since the age of 17, but has always had to juggle her training with full-time work commitments.

"It has its challenges. It's a pretty full-on day, when you have to get up early at 6am, do your session, and then go to work and have another session at the end of the day."

For some players that could be about to change, with NZ Rugby confirming new contracts include an increase to base retainers, a retirement fund and more money.

"It's a hugely important milestone," says NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum. "It's a really exciting one."

The increase should see those at the lower end of the contracts make about $60,000 a year, with leading players earning more than $130,000.

"Now that we can make rugby a priority every day, I think the future of the game is looking really bright," Cocksedge adds.

Plenty of work must be done before October's Women's Rugby World Cup, after a disappointing northern tour.

"There was a really clear line drawn in the sand in November about the standards that our players and management and support need to get to for them to be the best in the world again," Lendrum adds. "We're not at the moment, but hope to be in 12 months' time."

The pay increase may extend to Super Rugby Aupiki.

"Those players will receive payment for the time period they have to take away from work," says Lendrum.

That payment is long overdue, but still worth celebrating.