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The St George Illawarra Dragons have finalised their NRL Holden Women's Premiership squad following the signings of Melanie Howard, Asoiva Karpani and Josie Strong.

Halfback Howard, front-rower Karpani and centre Strong will complement the Dragons' squad across the board considering their differing experience at a domestic, representative and international level.

Dragons coach Daniel Lacey was pleased and excited about the make-up of the inaugural Dragons' Women's Premiership squad.

As the Dragons were awarded a five-year license in March to compete in the Women's Premiership, Lacey said the club looked long-term when determining the squad.

"We have succeeded in what we wanted to do in the fact that we wanted to look towards the future," Lacey said.

"We wanted to look locally – which is why we will have six young juniors in the squad – as well as turn to some experienced and versatile players to be a part of the squad.

"There are plenty of players there who are on the up and haven't hit their peak yet so our plan is to help them reach their best. With the five-year license in the Women's Premiership, we're definitely looking towards the future.

"We have some of our catchment area's best young females combined with some of the best New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand representative players, and everyone can only benefit from it."

Howard currently plays for CRL Newcastle in the Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership alongside fellow Dragons Holli Wheeler and Hannah Southwell.

The 25-year-old also helped guide NSW Country to its National Championships victory earlier in the year alongside Dragons Wheeler, Southwell, Kezie Apps, Georgina Brooker, Rikeya Horne, Sam Bremner, Shakiah Tungai and Keely Davis.

"It's my first year where I've solely played rugby league. I chose not to play rugby this year because there seems to be more opportunities in league. I come from a league family too so I thought now was a good time to go back to my roots," Howard said.

"It's going to be great playing in a team where I've played with so many of them already. It's a bit of a reunion for some of us after we won the National Championships. I'm definitely keen to play alongside them and all the others at the Dragons."

Strong – a local Berry-Shoalhaven Heads junior – is glad her return to rugby league in 2018 for the Corrimal Cougars has paid dividends.

Strong played for Illawarra side Corrimal Cougars
Strong played for Illawarra side Corrimal Cougars

"It came as a huge shock to me to be signed for the Women's Premiership. I wasn't expecting it at all. It still doesn't feel real," Strong said.

"I feel privileged enough to play with [fellow Women's Premiership players] Keeley Davis and Rikeya Horne at Corrimal so to do it again at the Dragons is a pretty big achievement for me.

Karpani is the ace up coach Lacey's sleeve, a rugby union convert who is ready to try her luck in the greatest game of all.   

The Adelaide-based Karpani's experience in rugby league isn't vast, although she has still represented South Australia and the Combined Affiliated States in recent years.

Off the back of her great representative showings, Karpani was invited into camp with Jillaroos and represented Tonga at February's Commonwealth Championships.

Karpani fends off a would-be defender
Karpani fends off a would-be defender

"It's an absolute honour and privilege for me to join the Dragons especially coming from South Australia. While it's an AFL state, I hope to be a good influence for people who are interested in league here and show there are opportunities to succeed," Karpani said.

"I'm keen to get amongst it and take everything I need to learn in order to succeed at the Dragons."

The Dragons Women's Premiership pre-season will begin on August 1 ahead of the inaugural season in September.


Melanie Howard

  • New South Wales Country (2014, 2018)

Eva Karpani

  • 2013 Youth Olympics – Australia rugby sevens
  • Combined Affiliated States (2017)
  • Tonga Rugby League (2018)

Josie Strong

  • New South Wales state soccer (2008-2010)

St George Illawarra Dragons' NRL Holden Women's Premiership squad:

  • Kezie Apps
  • Talia Atfield
  • Annette Brander
  • Sam Bremner
  • Georgina Brooker
  • Teina Clark
  • Keeley Davis
  • Kate Haren
  • Honey Hireme
  • Rikeya Horne
  • Melanie Howard
  • Asoiva Karpani
  • Asipau Mafi
  • Raecene McGregor
  • Talesha Quinn
  • Oneata Schwalger
  • Anneka Stephens
  • Jessica Sergis
  • Hannah Southwell
  • Josie Strong
  • Shakiah Tungai
  • Holli Wheeler
Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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