Maria Konstantopoulos6 minute read
The next edition of the National Women’s Rugby League Premiership is just three nights away.
With four new teams introduced in the Canberra Raiders, Wests Tigers, Cronulla Sharks and North Queensland Cowboys, the only certainty heading into Round 1 is uncertainty.
Four new teams and players signing multi-year contracts for the first time meant a lot of player turnover, so even well-established teams have plenty of new faces.
This is how the teams look ahead of this season.
The Eels are the least experienced team in the NRLW this year, but what they lack in experience, co-captain Kennedy Cherrington will be looking to bring excitement.
The Eels were hit hard by player turnover during the offseason, but they have some exciting new recruits such as Elsie Albert to bolster the forward package and Rachael Pearson who will bring much-needed experience to the halves.
Former Australian Jillaroos Nakia Davis-Welsh and Talesha O’Neill join the team after taking time off to have children and hope their internationally honed shrewdness will help the young group.
Another player to watch is former Jillaroo Mahalia Murphy, who will bring plenty of pace to the back line.
The Tigers men have had a disappointing 2023, but the Tigers’ NRLW recruiting has clearly been focused on ensuring their women start off with a bang.
What I respect most about this Tigers team is that it is the reward for investment in the Tigers women’s rugby league with 11 players from the team that won the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership in 2022, including Kezie Apps, Emily Cortina, tess spots and Sophie Cortina. Brett Kimmorley also coached that team before being called up to the NRLW, so this playgroup looks familiar to him.
It may take some time for this Tigers team to come together, but led by Botille Vette-Welsh, I expect them to be competitive in 2023.
St. George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons are feeling the impact of the new teams with just five players returning from the 2022 season.
It’s easy to focus on who the Dragons have lost, but I’m focusing on the remaining talent, including Teagan Berry, Bobbi Law, Tara McGrath-West and Roxy Murdoch-Masila. Raecene McGregor is also one of Dragons’ key recruits. After winning the Dally M in the 2022 season, McGregor will no doubt be waiting for the chance to guide this young team around the park.
One player to watch is Tyla Nathan-Wong, who has returned to rugby league after making a name for himself as one of New Zealand’s best Sevens players.
North Queensland Cowboys
Ben Jeffries is one of the most respected coaches in the women’s game and with one of the least experienced teams, the Cowboys will look to him for leadership.
What’s exciting for the Cowboys is the local talent on the team. While the players may be young, many have been part of a similar path, including Sareka Mooka, Lily Peacock, and Talulah Tillett.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Kirra Dibb lead this team. Dibb is one of the more experienced half in the NRLW and has been part of several inaugural NRLW teams in the NRLW, so he understands being part of a team in his first year. As midfielder and captain, Dibb will take on a lot of responsibility in this young team.
gold shore titans
The Titans may have finished in last place in 2022, but strong recruiting will see them move up the ladder in 2023.
Where the Titans will be strongest is on their back line. Evania Pelite will move to fullback, giving her more opportunities to get involved in the game. Other star recruits in the back line include Jaime Chapman, Emily Bass and Niall Williams-Guthrie.
The Titans also have a new half pairing in Taliah Fuimaono and Chantay Kiria-Ratu and developing their partnership will be key to the Titans’ success in 2023.
Stalwart Stephanie Hancock returns for another season at age 41 and will look to continue her try-scoring bonanza beginning in 2022.
Darrin Borthwick has built an exciting team with a lot of experience and a host of players from the local area.
Key recruits include Zahara Temara who was exceptional in home state Queensland, Simaima Taufa who is one of the best forwards in the game and Hollie-Mae Dodd who has four years of experience in the Super League.
My player to watch is Ahlivia Ingram who has had a meteoric rise in the last 12 months being part of the NRL Indigenous Women’s Academy camp at the Australian Institute of Sport, participating in the Prime Minister’s XIII team and also in this year’s All Stars match.
The reigning Premiers have managed to retain a core group of players who went all the way last season, but they also have plenty of new faces wanting to prove themselves.
The Knights still have some of the best players in the women’s game, including Tamika Upton, Jesse Southwell, Hannah Southwell, Yasmin Clydsdale and Caitlan Johnston, but where this team can be challenged is at forwards. Losing Millie Boyle to the Sydney Roosters was a huge blow and will mean several other players, including Johnston, will need to fill the void.
Hannah Southwell is a player I’ll be keeping an eye on as well. She is returning from a serious ACL injury, and from the experience of previous players, we know that it can take several months for players returning from this type of injury to return to their previous form.
The Roosters are serious in 2023.
Their 2022 squad was packed with superstars, including Jessica Sergis, Corban Baxter, Isabelle Kelly and Olivia Kernick, but add Millie Boyle to the mix and the Roosters just got stronger.
Tarryn Aitken is also an exceptional purchase for the Roosters. Aitken has continued to develop her as a playmaker and alongside Jocelyn Kelleher at the halves, she will look to make a big impact in Round 1 against her former club, the Broncos.
Expanded competition means all teams have a little more time to wind down in their seasons and for the Roosters, the key will be managing expectations as many predict this team will go all the way.
The Broncos were extremely disappointed to miss the Finals in 2022 and will want to make amends this year.
A core group of players remains, including Ali Brigginshaw and chelsea lenarduzzi, but his hiring has been exceptional. Gayle Broughton will only get better after her first season last year and Romy Teitzel also joins the Knights team.
My player to watch is Mele Hufanga, who was one of the standouts at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup, scoring four tries in five games. At the time, Hufanga was still very new to rugby league, so he looks at how explosive he is after a full pre-season.
For a club that has pioneered women’s rugby league, this season is going to be very significant.
The Sharks may only be in their first year, but many of their recruits have played together as part of Sharks Harvey Norman’s Women’s Premier League side, including Maddie Studdon, Cassie Staples, Tiana Penitani and Ellie Johnston, so their combinations may not take as long to come together as some of the other new clubs.
Superstar Emma Tonegato has moved into the halves, so I’ll be watching her develop alongside Tayla Preston, who’s joining her this weekend.
With 10 teams, this is NRLW’s longest season yet and will be the first time fans will have to choose between watching the men’s and women’s game.
But come at 12:00 on Sunday; I know where I’ll be