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Unpredictable NRLW season ahead after huge player movement

With so much player movement leading up to Round 1, the fifth NRLW season will be the hardest to predict by far.

Kick-off is just one sleep away and with a record $350,000 to now spend on rosters, the six clubs have recruited and re-signed stars to set the stage for the best and most even season in the NRLW’s short history.

It’s also the busiest year for women’s players with the delayed 2021 season at the start of this year followed by this competition and the World Cup in October.

“The competition is wide open, I think all six teams can win it,” said St George Illawarra coach Jamie Soward.

“We were lucky, we were able to sign 17 players out of our Grand Final squad which is always a huge advantage. We also picked up Andie Robinson and Monalisa Soliola. We were smart with our recruitment, we wanted to get the right people to come and fit in, but also push those girls that were returning.

“I feel like I’ve got a well-balanced side heading into the season.”

With Soward’s Dragons coming in as the runners-up and on a mission to go one better, reigning champions the Sydney Roosters ready to go back-to-back, as well as the Brisbane Broncos shaking off the shock of missing their first ever grand final appearance, the fight for the bragging rights has never been higher.

Add to mix the Gold Coast Titans, Parramatta Eels and Newcastle Knights who have dipped their toes into the water and, coming into the second season, now know what needs to be done to be there at the end.

Here’s how each club is shaping up.

Sydney Roosters

The Roosters just snuck into the finals and went on to cause a huge upset in the 2021 semi-finals by knocking out previous champions the Brisbane Broncos. They took out the title with an impressive 16-4 win against the St George Illawarra Dragons. Heading into the season as premiers and bursting with talent, they are one of the favourites to take out the title.  

The Tricolours welcome back stars like Jess Sergis and Isabelle Kelly and have added ex-gold Coast duo Destiny Brill and Shaniah Power to the pack. They will however be without their fearless leader Corban Baxter who is expecting her second child in January.

Star Power – Isabelle Kelly

The Roosters centre is one of the best in the game. She was instrumental in her side’s Grand Final win last season, as well as the Sky Blues Origin triumph when she scored the winning try. Kelly has won the inaugural women’s Golden Boot award as well as NRLW player of the year and is set for a huge 2022 season.

Isabelle Kelly playing for the Roosters in NRLW

Isabelle Kelly (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Young Gun – Jada Taylor

This 19-year-old superstar became a household name after her player of the match performance including her epic 109m try for the Blues in the Under 19’s State of Origin match earlier this year. Expect great things from this young flyer.

St George Illawarra Dragons

The 2021 runners-up have licked their wounds in the off season and will set out to make amends. They were also the bridesmaids in 2019 against the Broncos, so will be determined to be the ones holding up the premiership trophy after this season.

With players like Kezie Apps, Page McGregor and arguably the best player in the competition, joint NRLW 2021 NRLW Dally M Player of the Year Emma Tonegato, the Red V are looking strong. Tonegato will be joined by her former Commonwealth rugby Sevens teammate Cassie Staples who has made the switch to league.

Star Power – Emma Tonegato

At the Women in League Round Launch in July, ARLC Chairman Peter V’Landys admitted he’d pay any admission price to watch Tonegato play and added “If she’s not one of the best fullbacks, male or female, I’ve ever seen … she is the future.”

Enough said.

Young Gun – Andie Robinson

Daughter of former Balmain Tigers player Clint Robinson, this boom centre is set to make a name for herself in the big league.  Another star from the Sky Blues Under 19’s side, Robinson scored a hat-trick in her side’s victory.

Newcastle Knights

It wasn’t the inaugural season the Knights were hoping for, unable to notch up a win and finishing last on the ladder. But they will be looking at taking what they have learnt and hoping to turn it around.

The Knights have had a massive recruitment drive, bringing on some huge names including 2021 NRLW Dally M Millie Boyle, fellow Bronco Tamika Upton and are welcoming back local talent Hannah Southwell from her stint at the Roosters. Along with re-signing the likes of Autumn-Rain Stephens and Caitlin ‘off the back fence’ Johnston, the Knights are ready to make a real surge for the finals.

Star Power – Mille Boyle.

Boyle is being touted as being the buy of the year after making the shock move from the Broncos. Daughter to former Canberra Raider David Boyle and niece to Jason Croker, the talented front-rower has league in her veins and is expected to make a huge impact to the Knights squad. 

Millie Boyle of the Blues runs the ball.

Millie Boyle. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Young Gun – Jesse Southwell

With a league and union background, this 17 year can do it all. After a successful season in the Tarsha cup, Southwell was selected to be part of Australia’s gold medal-winning Women’s Rugby Sevens Commonwealth Games team. Southwell is set to pull on the red and blue jersey and star alongside her sister Hannah.

Brisbane Broncos

The Broncos held onto all three premiership titles since the competition began back in 2018, so it was a shock to all when they missed the 2021 decider. They will be out for revenge over the next few months and determined to get their names back in the record books.

There has been a lot of talk around the players who have left Brisbane, with Millie Boyle, Tamika Upton and Lauren Brown all parting ways. But the club have also made some great signings in the way of Jaime Chapman, Lauren Brown and Brianna Clark. And captain Ali Brigginshaw returns for her fifth season with the Broncos.

Ali Brigginshaw of the Broncos is congratulated by teammates

Ali Brigginshaw (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Star Power – Jaime Chapman

After two solid seasons at the Dragons, Chapman is one of the most exciting young backs in the competition She received the Trish Hina medal for player of the match in the Indigenous All Stars 18-8 win over the Maori All Stars last season and will be a massive boost the Broncos backline.

Young Gun Sara Sautia

The 19-year-old second-rower has worked hard made her debut last year with the Broncos and is set for an even bigger 2022 season. She represented Queensland in the Under 19’s Origin match against NSW and is set to lay a big part in her team’s success.

Parramatta Eels

Their first season in the NRLW didn’t go to plan, with two wins from five matches seeing them miss out on the finals. But the Eels have trained hard during the off-season and are ready to make amends.

Rugby Sevens player and Olympic gold medallist Gayle Broughton has signed on with the blue and gold, as well as former Carlton ALFW star Brooke Walker. They join the like of fearless leader Simaima Taufa, speedster Tiana Penitani and talented fullback Abbi Church.

But the side will be missing a major piece of their puzzle, with star Botille Vette-Welsh out for the season after sustaining an ACL injury early this year.

Maddie Studdon of the Eels celebrates with teammates.

 (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Star Power – Simaima Taufa

Coming into her fifth NRLW season, the 2017 Dally M winner is a force to be reckoned with. The Eels captain is one of the toughest in the competition and was named Player’s Player of the Year in 2021. The side will be looking at her to lead the way once again.

Young Gun – Rueben Cherrington

The younger sister of Eels hooker Kennedy will make her NRLW debut after a stellar season for the Dragons in the Tarsha Gale Cup. The 19-year-old hooker was named vice-captain for the Under 19s NSW side and will be a valuable addition to the Eels squad.

Gold Coast Titans

Another side returning for the second year in the big league, there are a few expectations on the Titans. They were the only new side to make the finals in the 2021 season and return with one of the most experienced sides to take the field in 2022.

Cult hero Steph Hancock is back, and will be joined by ex-Broncos stars Roxy Murdoch, Lauren Brown and Hagiga Mosby. Exciting five-eighth Emily Curtain has also made the move from the Eels.

Additionally, the Titans have a new coach at the helm, with former Jillaroo and Maroons assistant Karyn Murphy handed the clipboard and whistle.

Star Power – Madison Bartlett

The Kiwi Ferns flyer currently holds the record for being the NRLW’s highest try scorer. Grabbing six tries from six matches in the last season, the former Warrior and Dragon will be set on keeping her record intact, as well as turning her 2021 runners-up trophy into a premiership.

Young Gun – Tiana Raftstrand-Smith

The New Zealand-born, Queensland-bred second-rower is heading into her second season with the Titans, after a successful 2021 saw her earn her first Maroons jersey. Also comfortable in the centres and at lock, the versatility of Raftstrand-Smith will prove invaluable.

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