This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
The start of the 2019 NRLW season is just over three weeks away.
While there are still a couple of unknowns (including the draw), the squads came together last week to commence training, and given the player movement over the off-season, there are plenty of new faces in each squad.
St George Illawarra Dragons
My goodness, this squad is looking red-hot heading into the new season.
Last year the Dragons suffered some heavy defeats, including a 26-0 loss to the Sydney Roosters and a 30-4 loss against the Brisbane Broncos.
While they did have some superstars in their team last year, including Kezie Apps and Sammy Bremner, the focus was very much on the development of younger players who came from the Illawarra area.
But more than any other team, the Dragons went hard on recruitment over the off-season, retaining only eight of their players from last year’s squad.
They have made some exceptional signings for the upcoming season, including Maddie Studdon and Brittany Breayley. Breayley is one of six Broncos who have joined the Dragons this year, and given Brisbane were the stand-out team last year, these players will add some real firepower to the Red Vee.
We’ve already seen the Roosters women featured in the media following the club’s decision to emblazon their female players’ names across the jerseys of their men’s team for Women in League round.
Given the big names in the Roosters squad last year, many predicted they would win the grand final. Despite a slow start to the season, Sydney did make the decider but were defeated by the Broncos 34-12.
The Roosters have retained ten of their squad members from last year and have made some exciting new signings, including Tallisha Harden, Kirra Dibb, Kiana Takairangi and Rebecca Young.
I’m especially excited for Young, who is a stalwart of the women’s game. She was not selected last year, so it will be good to see her take the opportunity to play in this year’s NRLW competition, especially after leading the CRL Newcastle team to a grand final win in the NSW Women’s Premiership.
The Roosters also have a new coach in Rick Stone, who was the coach of that successful CRL Newcastle team this year.
More than any other team, the reigning champions squad has been pillaged – which is unsurprising given how much they dominated the competition last year.
The Broncos have retained 12 of their squad from last year (more than any other club), but have also lost six players to other clubs (also more than any other team).
The good news for Broncos fans is that some of these signings, like Millie Boyle and Jessika Elliston, are very exciting talent.
Take Boyle, for example, who is a dual-code athlete. She has only just finished her rugby commitments for the year, touring with the Australian Wallaroos for their recent series against New Zealand.
Boyle’s brother Morgan, who plays for the Sea Eagles, had been in her ear about returning to rugby league, and she did so this year. Many of you will also remember Boyle lighting it up for New South Wales in State of Origin – I’m very pleased she chose to play for NSW given that she was eligible to play for both states.
The Broncos may have lost some talent, but with players like Heather Ballinger, Ali Brigginshaw, Julia Robinson and Meg Ward still there, I expect big things from this team in the upcoming season.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors did not lose any players to other squads. This is unsurprising given their strength is the huge talent pool they have access to in New Zealand.
The big gain for this squad is Honey Hireme, who will be returning back to New Zealand after playing with the Dragons last year.
The other big change is that Georgia Hale will captain the squad after 38-year-old Laura Mariu was ruled out of the season with a shoulder injury.
The tremendous change in the squads demonstrates how quickly the talent pool is growing.
There are a number of women who we saw play last year who will not play this year, and that is partly because the next generation of talent – including players like Millie Boyle, Maddison Weatherall and Kirra Dibb – have pushed them out.
A player like Weatherall, who has progressed through the Tarsha Gale Competition and the NSW Women’s Premiership, is clear evidence that the pathway is working.
Additionally, a number of players will not feature this season after falling pregnant during the year, including Taleena Simon, Sammy Bremner and Nakia Davis-Welsh.
In other exciting news, the NRL has announced that this year’s NRLW season will feature two standalone games. The Warriors will play a Round 2 game at Mt Smart Stadium on 22 September and the Dragons will play the Roosters at Leichhardt the following Sunday.
This is a really important step and means fans of the Warriors will finally get to see their women’s team play at home irrespective of whether the men’s team makes the finals.
It also means fans who just love women’s footy – and there are plenty, considering the turnout at North Sydney Oval for this year’s State of Origin – will be able to go watch the standalone fixture without having to pay the much higher prices attached to a men’s finals game.