This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
After they weren’t supposed to win the first NRLW title and also weren’t expected to claim the second, Broncos star Chelsea Lenarduzzi is hoping history again repeats itself.
The third NRLW season starts with a double-header in Canberra on Saturday, with the Broncos ready to silence their doubters once more.
“We enjoy that,” said Lenarduzzi of the doubters.
“The first year, we weren’t meant to win. The second year, we weren’t meant to win. We have used that as motivation every single year.”
Plenty has changed for the Broncos since their dominant win over the Dragons in the 2019 grand final.
While familiar faces such as Ali Brigginshaw, Julia Robinson, Millie Boyle and Meg Ward remain, almost half the team is new.
There were many reasons behind the player turnover.
Chelsea Baker and Rona Peters made a decision not to play due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Those restrictions mean that from when the competition commences on Saturday, players will be required to be in “home-isolation” for the duration of the season.
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, they will be unable to leave their homes, except for training and to compete.
For many women competing in the NRLW, these necessary protocols impact their ability to work and study.
But Lenarduzzi isn’t letting the bubble sap her enthusiasm.
“It’s challenging but we all knew that this ‘bubble’ was a possibility. Because we were expecting it, the vibe around our team is really positive,” said Lenarduzzi.
“We love the game and we want to play. We can’t wait to play.”
Other Broncos departures include Heather Ballinger (retired), Amber Pilley (injured) and Amy Turner and Mariah Storch, who are both pregnant.
Then there was the move from Steph Hancock to the Dragons. At St Goerge Illawarra she will play alongside Elsie Albert – who is set to become the first woman from Papua New Guinea to compete in the competition.
Despite the changes, Lenarduzzi is confident in the squad coach Kelvin Wright has assembled.
“I think there will be a lot of people very surprised at some of the talent in our squad,” said Lenarduzzi.
The best news Brisbane got heading into this season was the return of Tallisha Harden.
She played for the Broncos in the inaugural season before playing for the Sydney Roosters last year where she was named their NRLW player of the year.
With the retirement of Ballinger and the departure of Hancock, Lenarduzzi is backing Harden to become a leader.
“Tallisha is the type of player that has always shown leadership and can cover a lot of positions which is handy,” said Lenarduzzi.
“She has also really worked on her strength during the pandemic so she is looking really strong.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications have dominated conversation, the possibility of a three-peat has been bubbling away in the minds of the women who have been there since day one.
Such has been the nature of the disrupted pre-season, the first time the Broncos came together as a complete squad was on Tuesday, just four days ahead of their game against the Warriors.
“I’d be lying if I said that the core group that has been there from the beginning isn’t thinking about it, but it isn’t something we discuss as a group,” said Lenarduzzi.
“There’s just too much going on this pre-season that it hasn’t even been on our radar.”
After the forgettable season Brisbane’s men’s team endured, Lenrduzzi wants to give Broncos fans something to smile about.
“It’s exciting to get the chance to provide a bit of joy for the die-hard Broncos fans,” said Lenarduzzi.
“They have all really gotten behind us since the first season of the NRLW so it would be good to give them something to be happy about in what’s been a really challenging year.”