This article was first written and published for the Roar.
The wait is over.
This week the Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues have both named their teams for the second Women’s State of Origin to be held at North Sydney Oval, next Friday 21st June.
It’s fair to say that for both teams there have been some changes and that the fixture should be a genuinely exciting one, given the number of debutants which will feature in both squads.
Queensland have named four debutants and New South Wales have named seven following on from some strong performances during the National Championships.
For those of us who have been following women’s footy for many years, it is clear that change is upon us. Whilst this means that some of the women we have followed and supported for years are no longer being selected, this is because there is a new generation of women coming through that will be the next group of female footy talent.
It’s a really exciting time for women’s rugby league, because when you look at the selections it’s clear that every single jersey is genuinely up for grabs and no one’s spot is certain.
Let’s look at the Maroons first.
The four debutants are Jessika Elliston, Amber Pilley, Stephanie Mooka and Ellie Stitt. Amber is a known quantity for many of us given her electric attack for the Brisbane Maroons in the NRLW last year, but next Friday will be the first time that I’ll have the opportunity to watch the other three women play.
I’m particularly excited about watching Stephanie play given that she will have the very difficult job of containing Isabelle Kelly if she is named in the centres.
There is a core group of Queensland players that remain from last year including Chelsea Baker, Annette Brander, Brittany Breayley, Ali Brigginshaw, Karina Brown and Tazmin Gray. I am very interested to watch Ali play, given that she was the stand out in the NRLW last year and also to see her combination with Brittany which was so devastating in the NRLW last year.
Heather Balinger and Steph Hancock have also been named and I wonder if Queensland are successful next Friday night, whether these two stalwarts of the women’s game will retire.
There’s no doubt that Queensland will benefit from the fact that so many women that played for the Broncos will also be playing together for the Maroons and will still be filthy that they lost the fixture 16-10 last year.
Unfortunately the women that have missed out this year for the Maroons include Mariah Storch, Kody House and Amelia Kuk.
For the Blues, there side also looks very different to the side that took the field last year. Sam Bremner is an obvious omission given that she is heavily pregnant, but other women to have missed out include Taleena Simon, Nakia Davis-Welsh who has also recently given birth, Elliana Walton, Talesha Quinn, Nita Maynard and Rebecca Young.
When looking at those omissions, it’s clear that it is NSW forwards which will look most different. But, there is still experience there. Hannah Southwell played off the bench last year and has been elevated to the starting side this year. Additionally, while Shontelle Showers may be making her debut, she is certainly no stranger to women’s rugby league.
She has been plagued by injuries throughout her career but played for the Sydney Roosters in the NRLW last year. Keep an eye out for her combination with Kezie Apps. I have a sneaking suspicious than coach Andrew Patmore will look to play her on the edge.
The halves combination is also a new one, with Kirra Dibb on debut to be partnering Maddie Studdon. Maddie is still young, but given Kirra is on debut, will need to take the role of the dominant half. She will be assisted by veteran Kylie Hilder, who returns to the squad after not having played for the Blues for over a decade.
In a further development for the women’s game, it has also been announced that there will be a women’s under 18s State of Origin, prior to the match.
The women who will be playing in that match have largely been selected from the Tarsha Gale Competition, with some of them including the likes of Sophie and Emily Curtain already making the transition into the NSW Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership (the twins play for the Wests Tigers).
This is a really positive development for the women’s game and instead of feeding demand for more teams in the NRLW or introducing a three-game series for State of Origin the introduction of this fixture provides a pathway for women who want to represent their state and is focused on developing the next generation of players which will ensure that women’s rugby league continues to grow at a sustainable pace.
At this stage, I’m tipping the Blues but by not much. I think the quality of this game will be better than last year so I encourage you all to get out to North Sydney Oval next Friday night and help us make it a sell out.