Twenty-five current and emerging Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos players have descended on the Gold Coast for an intensive three-day training camp, under the watchful eyes of current Jillaroos coach, Steve Folkes and new appointment to the team, assistant coach Adrian Vowles.
The national women’s side has had an impressive 2015, with highlights including a successful first-time campaign at the Dick Smith Auckland Nines, and an ANZAC Test Match win against the New Zealand Kiwi Ferns. Long-standing partner of the NRL, Harvey Norman also signed on as the first ever major sponsor of the national women’s side and Jillaroos five-eighth Jenni-Sue Hoepper became the inaugural Dally M Female Player of the year at a glittering awards ceremony during the Telstra Premiership Grand Final week.
Next year is shaping as just as big, with a selection of current, emerging and new players coming together over the weekend to prepare for the national season ahead.
Three matches are scheduled for the Dick Smith Auckland Nines at the start of next year, along with a Test Match and title to defend against the Kiwis, scheduled for the Friday during the 2016 Mid Season Representative Weekend. Outside of this, squad members will participate in various competitions at the elite level, including the Affiliate State Championships and the QLD vs NSW Interstate Challenge.
Coach Steve Folkes said the team had soared to new heights this year and welcomed the addition of new faces into the training camp on the Gold Coast, including the depth and experience of former Australian and Queensland representative, now assistant coach of the Jillaroos, Adrian Vowles.
“The team has consistently worked together and supported one another on and off the field and the results speak for themselves,” said Folkes.
“We have a very strong Jillaroos following in Australia, with female participation numbers the fastest growing category of any in our game, up 26% alone this year.
We also get an enormous amount of support for the girls when they play.
“The fact that we have 25 squad members at this camp, with16 travelling to New Zealand for the Nines tournament is testament to the high level of competitiveness that exists in Australian female rugby league and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
Jillaroos captain Steph Hancock was confident the team could capitalise on such a strong year and continue to grow the strength and awareness of women’s rugby league at the highest level in Australia.
“We’re a committed bunch of girls and we play tough rugby league whenever we take to the field,” said Hancock.
“It’s a thrill and an honour to have captained this side this year, particularly at a time when female sport in Australia is becoming more and more prevalent.”
Harvey Norman Chief Executive Officer and long-time supporter of rugby league, Katie Page, joined the squad as part of the camp and looked forward to watching the strength of the league and Jillaroos continue to develop.
"The Harvey Norman Jillaroos deserve to be household names - these women are just the most incredible athletes and as we have seen throughout this year, they are world-class.
"The Jillaroos victory over the Kiwi Ferns in May was the start of this watershed year for women in Australian sport. I still vividly remember Mahalia Murphy's hat-trick.
"Watching them come together in camp and in training, you get the sense that we have just begun to see what these exceptional women have in store for us and the game."
The Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos squad for the camp are as follows (please note, there may be additional players who are unable to attend the camp that are eligible for selection next year):
1 Allana Ferguson – new to squad from NSW
2 Ali Brigginshaw
3 Annete Brander
4 Brittany Breayley
5 Casey Karklis
6 Charmayne Nathan – new to squad from NSW
7 Chelsea Baker – new to squad from QLD
8 Corban McGregor – new to squad from NSW
9 Heather Ballinger
10 Ilaisaane Finau – new to squad from WA
11 Jenni-Sue Hoepper - Dally M Female Player of the Year
12 Karina Brown – Dally M Finalist
13 Kezie Apps
14 Kody House – new to squad from QLD
15 Latoya Billy
16 Maddie Studdon
17 Renae Kunst
19 Ruan Sims
20 Sam Hammond
21 Shanice Parker – new to squad from WA
22 Steph Hancock – Jillaroos Captain & Dally M Finalist
23 Tallisha Harden
24 Vanessa Foliaki
25 Sasha Mahuika – new to squad from QLD
Key fixtures for the Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos in 2016 are as follows:
• NRL Auckland Nines: 6 and 7 February 2016 – three Matches vs. New Zealand Kiwi Ferns
• Mid-Season Test Match: Friday 6 May 2016 vs. New Zealand Kiwi Ferns
Further information on female rugby league in Australia:
• 26% increase in club female participation in 2015, following a 30% increase in 2014
• Over 171,000 female school participants
• Over 400,000 female participants playing rugby league (touch, tag, tackle)
• Fastest growing sector of Rugby League
• More than 2.1 million female rugby league members
• Calendar of 2016 elite events for women includes: Auckland 9’s, All Stars, ANZAC Test, Interstate Challenge (NSW v QLD) and Affiliate States Championships
• 2015 was the first year of the female Affiliate States Championships, making it a true national pathway to the Jillaroos.
• The Female Dally M Player of the Year was awarded for the first time to Jenni-Sue Hoepper
• Two women have now made their NRL refereeing debuts (Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman)
• Harvey Norman signed on as the first major partner of the Jillaroos