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Origin coach now searching for Wheeler replacement

NSW Women's Origin coach Andrew Patmore is looking for a new back-rower after Holli Wheeler's 2020 season came to a shuddering halt in Perth on Friday night.

Wheeler suffered a serious knee injury in the Dragons' opening match of the NRL Nines, with Patmore confirming she won't be playing in the June 19 showdown with Queensland on the Sunshine Coast.

"I really feel for her. I've spoken to her this morning – she's shattered. When you see that happen it's horrifying to watch," Patmore told NRL.com on Monday.

Wheeler, the NRLW star, who was also a member of the CRL Newcastle team that won the 2019 Harvey Norman Women's premiership last August, was a central part of Patmore's plans.

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She shared the coach's "players of the match award" with fellow Jillaroos forward Simaima Taufa after the 2019 Origin win over the Maroons at North Sydney Oval.

Although Wheeler is still to get scan results detailing the damage to her left knee ligaments, she will be a non-starter for Patmore in 2020.

Patmore has already identified two players – Shaylee Bent (Dragons) and Caitlan Johnston (Roosters) – as possible replacements.

Bent was 18th woman in the NSW Origin team last season, while Johnston was player of the match in the NSW Under 18s team win over Queensland.

Kezie Apps and Hilli Wheeler after the 2019 Origin.
Kezie Apps and Hilli Wheeler after the 2019 Origin. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"There is some great talent coming through. Shaylee Bent is a stand-out and then Caitlan Johnston is a 19-year-old with a big future in front of her," Patmore said.

"She was outstanding in the under 18s last year and then good in the seniors when she was called up. Caitlan is a bit more flamboyant and has some good attributes to her game.

"But to be at that Origin level with that nature you need to do those little jobs in a game - which Holli excelled at – then that's very difficult to fill her role.

"Holli is such a tough competitor who can play anywhere [in the back-row] and does an amazing job.

"We've got the task now to go and look closer at the edges. And that's an area that we know we need to continually develop. Losing Holli just emphasises that point."

Another selection headache for Patmore is between talented fullbacks Corban McGregor and Sam Bremner.

He might get a better idea when NSW Country (Bremner) and NSW City (McGregor) do battle on May 17 in Sydney. That match will double as the Origin selection trial.

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McGregor played centre in the NSW 2018 Origin team with Bremner at No.1 but then Roosters flyer took over the fullback role in 2019 with Bremner on maternity leave.

"It was really good to see Sammy running around," Patmore said of the NRL Nines tournament last weekend, which had the Dragons upsetting the Broncos in the grand final.

"We've had some conversations, so to watch her play at that level again proves what an exceptional athlete she is.

"Sammy will be ready – so will Corban – and you want that competition. We want the girls to know there's no walk-ups here," Patmore said.

"You've got to be playing really good footy over the next two to three months to be in that team."

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