Brad Donald says the 17 players named in the Jillaroos Merit Squad have put themselves firmly in contention for national spots ahead of the 2021 World Cup in England.
The coach and his fellow Jillaroos selectors chose the merit team based on form throughout the NRLW premiership and Friday night's State of Origin clash.
Stars including Jess Sergis, Isabelle Kelly (who was injured in the second round of NRLW), Corban McGregor and Tiana Penitani missed selection after underwhelming campaigns by their lofty standards, but Donald said he knows they can offer much more.
"It was tough [to select the merit side] … It's not necessarily the team that we would take if we played a game tomorrow," Donald told NRL.com.
"[But] it's a World Cup year next year and that means taking away 23 players. If we were going away, those 17 would all get a start, they'd all be on the plane. I think they've all worked hard enough."
Dally M Player of the Year Ali Brigginshaw is named at halfback with her Broncos teammates and Queensland match-winners Tarryn Aiken (five-eighth) and Tamika Upton (fullback) also included.
"That's a really strong combination and that could be the potential future of the Jillaroos. Neither Tarryn or Tamika have represented the Jillaroos, so their form was great. They've stepped up every time," Donald said.
Brigginshaw finished the season as a ball-playing lock at club and state level, but Donald said the Jillaroos prefer a traditional playmaking style and the selectors couldn't overlook Roosters gun Hannah Southwell as their No.13.
Two players – Evania Pelite, the rugby sevens convert who played for the Warriors, and breakout Roosters forward Kennedy Cherrington – were chosen despite not playing Origin.
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Donald highlighted Lauren Brown and Quincy Dodd as players who improved immensely to put their names up in lights this season.
"Lauren Brown had a breakout season in rugby league with Burleigh, the Broncos and now with Queensland," he said.
"I saw her run around at Burleigh a couple of times in the halves and thought she was pretty good.
"Quincy Dodd – I think she's probably the form hooker. We've had her in the system for a couple of years but she hasn't quite been able to crack a spot.
"She was probably the most consistent hooker through the NRLW and even when she came on [for NSW] last night she made a bit of a difference."
Aiken breaks the line and Upton looms up for her double
The merit forward pack boasts plenty of firepower with Millie Boyle and Filomina Hanisi up front and experienced campaigner Kezie Apps and Tallisha Harden joining Southwell in the back row.
Boyle's Broncos teammate Chelsea Lenarduzzi forced her way onto the bench having also gained merit selection in 2019.
"Millie's been solid the last two years. She was really solid through the NRLW season. Herself and Chelsea Lenarduzzi were great for the Broncos and they were both great last night as well," Donald said.
"Filomina, she's another one that probably was a bit of a surprise. She's had a breakout season as well. We're just rewarding some of the good form – one of the things that we make sure we do in the Jillaroos side is reward people for their form and effort.
"The back-rowers – Tallisha Harden had a great season and she was great again last night just continually digging into the line. And Kezie tried her guts out which is pretty standard from Kezie in any team."
Roosters and Queensland playmaker Zahara Temara and Dragons and NSW forward Shaylee Bent earned interchange places.
Elsewhere, Julia Robinson claimed a centre position and fellow Queenslander Karina Brown landed on the wing.