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Squad game: Dragons NRLW analysis and best 17

St George Illawarra Dragons are back for a fourth season in the NRL Telstra Women's Premiership but never before will their build-up to a campaign feel so different.

New coach Jamie Soward has inherited most of a squad recruited by Mat Head, who briefly took over as coach following Daniel Lacey's departure at the end of the 2020 season.

Easily the hardest hit by the expansion to six NRLW clubs, the Dragons have lost 10 players from their 2020 squad to rival sides while foundation player Sam Bremner is also out of action after giving birth to her second child in November.

However, the Dragons do have reason to feel quietly optimistic despite being written off by some already about their chances in 2022.

The Red V still boasts plenty of NRLW and international experience including star forward Kezie Apps, Jillaroos hooker Keeley Davis and fresh of her player of the match performance in the All Stars, Jaime Chapman.

Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson leads the way at pre-season training.
Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson leads the way at pre-season training. ©Dragons Media

Australian rugby sevens star Emma Tonegato heads a list of new recruits fresh off her Tokyo Olympics campaign.

Tonegato is one of 12 Dragons players in line for an NRLW debut with the former Jillaroo an option for Soward at fullback.

Former Rooster Quincy Dodd arrives at the club after three years at the Tricolours and provides a one-two punch with Davis at hooker.

PNG forward Elsie Albert proved difficult to stop in her maiden season in 2020 while the backline have all had experience representing NSW, either at Origin or under 19s level.

The Dragons have come to a mutual agreement to release Shontelle Stowers and her place in the squad will be taken by former Broncos utility Kody House.

Tonegato 'super excited' for NRLW challenge

House has represented both Queensland and the Jillaroos and brings a wealth of experience to the Dragons.

Rookie Page McGregor withdrew from the All Stars fixture due to a calf niggle but should be available for the side in round one.

Possible best 17

1. Emma Tonegato 2. Jaime Chapman 3. Keele Browne 4. Page McGregor 5. Teagan Berry 6. Taliah Fuimaono 7. Rachael Pearson 8. Elsie Albert 9. Keeley Davis 10. Aliti Namoce 11. Shaylee Bent 12. Kezie Apps 13. Holli Wheeler. Interchange: 14. Quincy Dodd 15. Janelle Williams 16. Alexandra Sulusi 17. Talei Holmes.

Biggest strength

The dummy half combination of Keeley Davis and Quincy Dodd are easily the most potent in the NRLW with the pair sharing the duties during women's State of Origin in June.

Both with backgrounds in the halves, their transitions to hooker have come seamlessly but get better with more game time played.

Dodd proved a handful during the NRLW in 2020 with three tries, all catching the defenders napping close to the line.

NRLW Dragons assemble in the Red V

Biggest question mark

The halves combination of Taliah Fuimaono and Rachael Pearson is untested with both players set to enter their maiden seasons in the NRLW.

Fuimaono has come through the ranks for Mounties in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership while Pearson hails from Wagga Wagga and only started playing for Helensburgh in the HNWP in 2021.

Pearson arrives at the Dragons with decent praises but the pair will need to find their feet early or coach Soward may have to make a change during the season.

Soward pleased after finalising NRLW squad

Draw snapshot

The Dragons will start their campaign against the Titans at McDonald Jones Stadium before the competition shifts to Wollongong for round two.

Another home game against the Roosters is locked in at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in round five on March 26.

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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