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NRLW Dragons season preview: The quest to go one better

They were left teary-eyed and searching for answers on grand final day last year but don't expect that result to do anything but motivate St George Illawarra. 

The Dragons had no answers for a Broncos outfit who proved why they're the benchmark in the women's game with a resounding 30-6 thumping on the big stage. 

Daniel Lacey's side got one back on the Broncos with a Nines tournament victory in February but the longer format is where they want to leave a mark. 

A core group of players remain in a squad desperate to clinch their first NRLW title. While a couple of legends and fresh blood arrive - the question is: Do they have enough to make amends?

The Incomparables

The Outlook

What's new

The engine room. The Dragons will have a new rotation of front-rowers after go-forward was a major area of concern in the 2020 grand final.

Former Jillaroos prop Stephanie Hancock adds some much-needed experience in the middle alongside Papua New Guinea captain Elsie Albert, who is set to make her NRLW debut.

Add in Harvey Norman NSW premiership forwards Ellie Johnston (South Sydney), Christine Pauli (South Sydney) and it's a rotation that will need to fire if they want their star-studded backline to shine.

Dragons outside back Shakiah Tungai.
Dragons outside back Shakiah Tungai. ©NRL Photos

The draw

A trip to Canberra for a clash against the Roosters in round one will be a handy first-up challenge for the Dragons after last year's corresponding clash featured plenty of points.  

Boasting plenty of Origin talent across both sides, the match will see centre Isabelle Kelly come up against her old side. Tha same applies to Botille Vette-Welsh who is back in Roosters colours.

From there the Dragons will play either the Warriors, who they beat in Auckland last season, or a grand final rematch with the Broncos in week two.

History suggests in the short competition that one win could get the side into the decider but to be safe two out of three will likely do.

The stat that gives you hope

There was a lot to like about the Dragons across the board in the regular season with the side leading in most key areas - average metres gained per set, possession rate, time spent in the opposition half, penalties earned and penalties conceded. 

Put simply, they did not execute in the grand final in any of those areas. Add in the experience of Sam Bremner, Steph Hanock and Isabelle Kelly arriving and that's enough to give anyone hope.

The pride and passion driving Women in League founder Katie Page

Player movement/Contract matters

As mentioned earlier, the Dragons have been active in the player market following a dozen departures including last year's five Broncos recruits.

The club did well to retain star centre Isabelle Kelly following her Nines switch in February to add to a formidable backline that will include Sam Bremner, Jess Sergis, Tiana Penitani and Shakiah Tungai.

Dragons coach Daniel Lacey has promoted Jaime Chapman to the top squad after she was part of the development in 2019, while Teagan Berry is an impressive outside back on the rise. Former Jillaroo Mahalia Murphy also joins the club following a switch from rugby sevens.

On the opposite end of things, utility Botille Vette-Welsh and forward Sarah Togatuki have both departed for the Roosters, while Holli Wheeler (knee), Navjada George (knee) and Taikele Katoa (pregnancy) are sidelined.

The game-breaker

It's not yet known where Daniel Lacey will play Sam Bremner with the roaming fullback also capable of playing in the halves. Whatever way they go, her return is a huge boost.

Sneak peek: The True Believers

Bremner never looked out of place during the Nines tournament and is a threat anywhere across the paddock. Isabelle Kelly and Jess Sergis can break a game wide open but it will all start with Bremner either on the edges.

The quote

"Coming off the Nines win we know we've got a really solid back five who are fast, strong and fit, but we learned in last year's grand final it all starts in the middle and that's where it's going to be the key for us if we go one better this year. I'm confident with what we've got." – Jessica Sergis.

Squad

Elsie Albert, Kezie Apps, Shaylee Bent, Teagan Berry, Sam Bremner, Jaime Chapman, Keeley Davis, Jade Etherden, Aaliyah Fasavalu-Fa'amausili, Stephanie 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.

Tarsha Gale's prediction

Finish: 1st

I'm tipping the Dragons to go all the way this year. They learned what it takes to win following their Nines victory in Perth and they will take that hunger and desire into this competition after last year's result. Daniel Lacey has added strength in the middle through Steph Hancock and Elsie Albert, while the side has no shortage of class in the outside backs. If their forward pack can click they'll be there on grand final and prove too hard to stop.