After what has been a turbulent year for the NRL, the NRL-W is ready to kick off in its third year. Expect bigger hits, more skilful plays and faster runs, in what very well may be the biggest and best season yet.
Game One: Roosters vs Dragons
Saturday 11:30am at GIO Stadium
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Both these teams have produced solid squads this season, with key signings and the return of superstars.
After two seasons with only a single win, the Roosters have named a fresh-faced side to start the season.
Botille Vette-Welsh returns to the Roosters after a short stint at the Dragons to fill the number 1 jersey.
Stars Corban McGregor, Brydie Parker, Zahara Temara, Simaima Taufa, Hannah Southwell, Quincy Dodd and Vanessa Foliaki have all re-signed with the tricolours and are named in the round 1 team.
New recruits Sarah Togatuki, Jocelyn Kelleher, Filomina Hanisi and Kaitlyn Phillips have been named on the bench and back-row.
Rugby Union star Grace Hamilton has not been included in this week’s team list, with fellow Union convert Charlotte Caslick being named as 5/8th.
Despite losing the grand final, coach Daniel Lacey has backed the key players that got them there.
Keeley Davis, Tiana Penitani, Jessica Sergis, Maddie Studdon and Shakiah Tungai all return to the Red V’s backline, with the return of Sam Bremner adding even more speed and skill.
Isabelle Kelly joins the Dragons after a successful 9’s campaign earlier in the year, which boosts their already star-studded squad.
Kezie Apps and Shaylee Bent start as a strong back-row combination, with new recruits Steph Hancock and Elsie Albert starting at front row and lock.
Last time they met: Round 3, 2019. Jess Sergis scored a double to help the Dragons topple the Roosters 24-16, earning them a spot in the grand final.
My prediction: While the Roosters have a strong side, the speed, skill and experience of the Dragons backline is dangerous against any team. Add in a forward pack that features Kezie Apps and Steph Hancock, and they’ll be hard to beat. While Caslick and Vette-Welsh will bring incredible power and skill to the Roosters, I think that it will take her some time to transition to the new code, especially with such a disrupted pre-season.
Game Two: Warriors vs Broncos
3pm Saturday at GIO Stadium
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These teams come into round 1 in completely opposite positions, with the Broncos looking to top two stellar years with a three-peat and the Warriors heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t expect that to affect the quality of this game though, because if anything, it’ll bring out the best in both teams.
Only five players have returned to the Warriors this year: Madison Bartlett, Georgia Hale, Kanyon Paul, Hilda Peters and Crystal Tamarua.
While this could hinder many teams, being led by Jillaroos coach Brad Donald will bring out the very best of this new-look squad.
Karina Brown, Kirra Dibb, Simone Smith and Shontelle Stowers have all joined from the Roosters and been named in key started positions.
Former Broncos player Tazmin Gray starts in the back row, with Australian Rugby Union stars Ellia Green and Evania Pelite named at wing and centre.
Despite losing 10 players to family commitments, retirement, injury or pregnancy, there are still plenty of familiar faces in this year’s Broncos squad.
Ali Brigginshaw, Raecene McGregor, Julia Robinson, Tamika Upton and Meg Ward all return, bringing plenty of experience and skill to the side, while Chelsea Lenarduzzi, Millie Boyle and Annette Brander will continue to lead from the front.
Tallisha Harden is named on the bench after joining from the Roosters.
New recruits Lauren Brown and Jayme Fressard will start on the wing and in the centres, with Shannon Mato and Tyler Birch debuting on the bench.
Last time they met: Round 3, 2019. The Warriors handed the Broncos their first and only loss, 10 – 8, only narrowly missing the Grand Final.
My prediction: Everyone loves an underdog, and it would be fantastic to see the Warriors kick off the season with a win, but I can’t see it happening so early against such an experienced Broncos side. It may be a different story after a few weeks of playing together, but the Broncos look to be the team to beat again this season.