The St George Illawarra Dragons have announced its 2020 NRL Telstra Women's Premiership squad following the completion of all necessary paperwork pertinent to player contracts and Covid-19 protocol approvals.
The Dragons' 2020 22-woman squad is headlined by the signings of Australia Jillaroos duo Steph Hancock and Isabelle Kelly, Papua New Guinea Orchids skipper Elsie Albert and the return of inaugural captain Sam Bremner.
Front-rower Hancock and centre Kelly – two of the biggest names in the women's game – join the Red V from the two-time premiership-winning Brisbane Broncos and Sydney Roosters respectively.
Front-rower Albert is the first Papua New Guinean native to sign with an NRL Women's Premiership team in a historic moment for women's rugby league, while fullback Bremner returns to NRLW action following the birth of her son.
The Dragons have named Bremner and the returning Kezie Apps as co-captains for the 2020 campaign, as the club looks to avenge last season's grand final defeat.
"It was an absolute privilege to include Isabelle in our Nines team in February so to see her join the club for the true season is brilliant," Dragons Women's Premiership coach Daniel Lacey said.
"She's still young, but brings plenty of experience. It provides us balance on both sides [of the field] and helps foster further big game experience into our squad.
"Everybody already knows what Steph will bring to the Dragons. I'm looking forward to seeing her influence on the younger squad members as they transition to that semi-professional environment.
"Steph has an aura about her, both as a player and also in demonstrating a winning culture. Let's not forget that she's still playing good football and still has plenty to offer.
"Sammy has unfinished business. She only played our first ever game before she was ruled out with injury. She's worked really hard to get back to this point and I can't wait to see her go around.
Lacey added: "There's no other way to describe Elsie other than an out-and-out trailblazer for women's sport in Papua New Guinea. She has had a lot of obstacles and hurdles thrown her way over the years but now she can safely say she's the first Papua New Guinean native to earn an NRLW contract."
Isabelle Kelly signs with NRLW Dragons
Including Bremner and Kelly, 12 players from the Dragons' victorious Perth Nines tournament have signed up to represent the Red V once again ahead of the third ever Women's Premiership season.
"Covid-19 has put some restrictions on what we had hoped to do but to have 10 girls return from last year's grand final team on top of Sammy and Izzy who were part of our Nines victory is a great accolade for the club," Lacey said.
"The fact the girls all wanted to come back is a great show of loyalty by them. We had a taste of holding up a trophy in Perth earlier this year and we learnt what it takes to win, which can only be a positive for our upcoming campaign."
There's no other way to describe Elsie other than an out-and-out trailblazer for women's sport in Papua New Guinea. She has had a lot of obstacles and hurdles thrown her way over the years but now she can safely say she's the first Papua New Guinean native to earn an NRLW contract.Daniel Lacey Dragons NRLW coach
In a nod to the importance of the Dragons' well-established women's pathway, 2019 development player Jaime Chapman will step up into the top squad this season.
Chapman joins teammates Aaliyah Fasavalu-Fa'amausili and Maddison Weatherall as those to have graduated from the club's women's development player squad.
"Jaime is one to watch. I've had the luxury of coaching 'Chappo' in the Under-18s New South Wales Origin team and I really believe in her capabilities," Lacey said. "I was more than happy to hand over a contract to her once she became of age earlier this year."
Tri-international Mahalia Murphy, local juniors Teagan Berry and Jade Etherden, Fiji international Talei Holmes, Samoa international Christine Pauli, New South Wales Country representative Ellie Johnston and former Super W and rugby sevens star Georgia Page round out the Dragons' squad.
The Dragons have also launched its 2020 NRLW membership campaign ahead of next week's season commencement.
You can show your support for the club's Women's Premiership endeavours by becoming a 2020 Dragons NRLW member.
Each Women's Premiership member will receive an exclusive NRLW member keyring, car sticker and certificate of membership to mark your support. Plus the first 100 members to sign up with receive a complimentary 2020 Red V member scarf!
Become a Dragons Women's Premiership member today. Sign up here.
2020 St George Illawarra Dragons' NRL Holden Women's Premiership squad:
- Elsie Albert
- Kezie Apps
- Shaylee Bent
- Teagan Berry
- Sam Bremner
- Jaime Chapman
- Keeley Davis
- Jade Etherden
- Aaliyah Fasavalu-Fa'amausili
- Steph Hancock
- Talei Holmes
- Rikeya Horne
- Ellie Johnston
- Isabelle Kelly
- Mahalia Murphy
- Georgia Page
- Christine Pauli
- Tiana Penitani
- Jessica Sergis
- Maddie Studdon
- Shakiah Tungai
- Maddison Weatherall