The ‘unreal’ weapons looking to reclaim women’s Origin shield

Cast an eye over Kylie Hilder’s NSW Sky Blues back line and you’ll find Dally M medallists, Golden Boot winners and NRLW premiership stars.

There’s Emma Tonegato, the rugby sevens convert taking the game by storm, named at fullback as one of four debutants in the NSW side to face Queensland at Canberra Stadium on Friday night.

There’s Isabelle Kelly and Jess Sergis in the centres, the former lauded by Hilder as a player who lives for games like State of Origin. There’s dual international Tiana Penitani on one wing and Yasmin Clydsdale on the other. Five-eighth Kirra Dibb earns a recall for her first Origin since 2019 to partner debutant Rachael Pearson in the halves.

But Kelly wants to talk about the forward pack.

Two debutants in Knights prop Caitlan Johnston and Roosters back-rower Olivia Kernick join an all-star cast including Dally M winner Millie Boyle, captain Kezie Apps, the recalled Shaylee Bent and a lock in Hannah Southwell who hits so hard you’re almost convinced she could stop a freight train in its tracks.

I always talk about our pack, they’re unreal. Even our bench, it’s so good to see those girls come into the State of Origin arena, like Caitlan Johnston, Kelly said.

This is the biggest game in the women’s calendar. Everyone tunes in to watch this, it’s always the biggest rivalry. It doesn’t matter who is on the opposite team, all you want to do is get out there, play your best footy and have one over them. I just hope people tune in and really get on board with us.

It’s really important. No one ever wants to keep losing back-to-back, but we’ve got a really strong team this year, we’ve got a few debutants. We’ve got Emma Tonegato who has come in playing fullback and she has been unreal.

It’s [a matter of] having a strong team and working as one. Last year we went away from that, we’ve really built on that this year.

Sam Bremner is listed in the No. 18 jersey after starring for Cronulla in the NSWRL competition, returning to the Blues camp after having two babies.

The former Australian Jillaroos fullback has been a breath of fresh air in camp as the Blues look to end Queensland’s two-year stranglehold on the Origin shield.

Kelly says the do-or-die nature of women’s Origin, which is played as a one-off game, means the losses hurt so much more. It will increase to a two-game series next year, opening the door for a drawn series in which the reigning champions would retain the shield.

It makes winning this year’s clash all the more important, with the Blues banning talk of the Canberra cold, refusing to make excuses as they hunt their first triumph since 2019.

All banned. No talking about how cold it’s going to be. There’s actually a fines system if you do bring up how cold it is, Hilder said.

We’re trying not to focus on what the result will mean if we don’t win, but getting that win will be important. We’re really keen to get that shield back. Our saying is ‘Whatever it takes’.

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