This article was first written for and published by the Roar.
lmost all of the top teams from the 2021 season of the NRLW premiership have picked up right where they left off in April, dominating the 2022 competition in Round 1. Here’s your talking points.
Will continuity prevail over untested combinations?
The most exciting thing about the NRLW this year is how different so many of the squads look. Leading into Round 1, the big question is, how long will these teams take to come together? With the NRLW season so short, for teams to be successful, they need to make it work (and quickly).
The dominant teams in Round 1, particularly the Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra Dragons, kept the majority of their star players from season 2021 and it showed.
For the Roosters, Isabelle Kelly made 170 run metres and nine tackle breaks, Sarah Togatuki rumbled down the middle and Jessica Sergis challenged the Eels’ edge defence whenever she got the ball.
The same can be said for the Dragons with Teagan Berry scoring another try, taking her tally to seven tries in nine NRL games. Emma Tonegato was brilliant at the back, Rachael Pearson’s kicking game was magnificent and the Dragons forward pack was strong, with Holli Wheeler making 149 metres and Kezie Apps making 116 metres.
Continuity seems to be working for both these teams.
Compare this to the Eels, who had moments of excitement with Brooke Walker showing glimpses of her attacking flair and Gayle Broughton showing her strength at the back. But for Parramatta who have an entirely new spine, it may take some time for the team to come together and this is time that the squad just doesn’t have.
Super Samantha Bremner
Whilst plenty of people are talking up the Roosters’ dominant 38-16 point win over the Eels and pointing to the success the reigning premiers had in season 2021, many have forgotten that the Roosters had a rocky start last year with losses in their first two matches.
But things changed for the Tricolours in Round 3 when captain Corban Baxter returned.
Unfortunately for the Roosters, Baxter will miss this season as she is pregnant with her second child, but the good news is that the Tricolours have a ready replacement in Samantha Bremner.
Bremner was my standout player from the weekend after missing the 2021 season after giving birth to her son Reef. In this game she terrorised the Eels and ran for 171 metres and broke 11 tackles.
Both the Roosters and the Eels had new fullbacks this weekend, but it was Bremner who stole the show.
The pathways are working
Sometimes I wonder how much better the current stars of the NRLW would have been if they had an unbroken pathway to play rugby league. Could you imagine the ceiling for players like Sergis, Kelly, Brigginshaw and Tonegato if they had not stopped playing rugby league at age 12?
This is an exciting time for the competition because we are finally beginning to see some young women come through who have the benefit of the additional pathways that the NRL has set up.
Andie Robinson is one such example. After playing in the Tarsha Gale Competition and then progressing to the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership for the Cronulla Sharks, Robinson scored a double in the Under 18s State of Origin match earlier this year.
She has been picked up by the Dragons this year and had immediate impact, scoring in her debut match.
At just 17 years of age (and the youngest-ever woman in the NRLW), Jesse Southwell is another player to watch. In fact, so young is Southwell that she had to get a special exemption to play in the NRLW this year.
When asked about some players to keep an eye on in the Tarsha Gale Competition last year, Gale herself spoke about Jesse. She scored a try on debut and no doubt the Southwell sisters will continue to be integral to Newcastle’s push toward a premiership.
Speaking of Newcastle…
Are the Knights the team to beat?
For those fans who managed to stick around after the Newcastle Knights’ loss in the NRL, they would have been overjoyed with a dominant performance which saw the NRLW team defeat the Brisbane Broncos, 32-14.
With some astute off-season signings including Millie Boyle and Tamika Upton, coupled with some of the existing squad including Caitlan Johnson and Romy Teitzel, the Knights were extremely impressive in their opening game.
• In the Eels-Dragons game, 54 points were scored. That equals the second-most points scored ever in an NRLW match (ties with the Titans beating the Broncos 28-26 in Round 1 of the 2021 competition).
• Kelly has become quite the consistent try scorer. With her try against the Eels that makes it four tries in four successive NRLW games.
• Evania Pelite was impressive for the Titans, with 147 run metres and four tackle breaks.
• The Knights’ win against the Broncos was their maiden NRLW win after not winning a game in their first season. On the flip side, this was the first time the Broncos had lost their first game of the season.
• Newcastle scored 16 points in the first half, which was the most points the team had scored in any game prior.
• Surprisingly, Fox League decided to telecast Sunday Night with Matty Johns at 6pm instead of the NRLW match between the Broncos and the Knights. The NRLW was on Channel 503. I would have thought that live content would have been the preference for a 24/7 rugby league channel, but hey, what do I know?
To the next
The Broncos play the Roosters in the first game of the round. I’m looking forward to some fireworks in this game. The last time these two teams met was when the Roosters knocked out the Broncos in the semi-final of the 2021 competition.
It was the first time in NRLW history that the Broncos had not featured in the grand final, and the first time the eventual premiers were not Brisbane.
The Eels will play the Dragons at CommBank Stadium in what almost becomes must-win for Dean Widders’ team. Given the short NRLW season, it is extremely difficult to bounce back from consecutive Round 1 and 2 losses (although the Roosters did manage to do so last year).
Finally, the Knights will take on the Titans. A tough assignment for the women from the Gold Coast.