Stakes At An All-Time High For NSW Women
They broke Queensland's 17-year stranglehold on the Women's Interstate Challenge last year, and now NSW believe they've never had a stronger squad heading into their clash in Wollongong.
The explosion of participation numbers and the development of pathways in the women's game has increased the standard across NSW in recent years.
With a World Cup at the end of the season, the stakes in the Interstate Challenge couldn’t be higher according to superstar NSW fullback Sam Bremner.
"There's so much on the line with this game," Bremner told NRL.com.
"Obviously we are two very passionate teams, we are not only fighting to retain our win last year… I know the Queenslanders desperately want to win it back after losing it last year, and then we have competitions to play in our position in the pinnacle of rugby league which is the World Cup at the end of the year.
"There is a lot on the line, we are all professional athletes and thrive under pressure, so I think it will be an unreal game."
After working so hard to finally wrest the trophy from Queensland in an epic 8-4 victory last year at Cbus Super Stadium, the NSW girls are desperate to hold on to the title.
For Bremner, it was a long time coming having made her debut for NSW in 2011 and suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of the champion Queensland side.
"It's a different feeling, because now we know how good a feeling it is to win an Origin match," she said.
"We wanted to win so bad, but just could never get the result, we wanted to make history and become the first team to beat Queensland, now that we've tasted it, we just want it even more.
"We've been working so hard and given up so much, there isn't one girl in the team who isn't passionate about this game.
"It's the strongest squad we've ever had.
"I think that is a reflection of the pathways that NSW rugby league has created, having the 18s and open competitions now, there are so many more girls to pick from.
"It would have been hard for the selectors to pick the team, being selected makes it feel that you really have earned your spot, because there is now genuine competition for places right across the team."
The superstar 25-year-old and has seen the explosion of the code since making her debut for the Australian side in 2012 and helping the Jillaroos win the World Cup in 2013.
It was something she didn't even know was possible when she started playing rugby league.
"When I started playing rugby league I didn't even know there was an Australian side!" Bremner added.
"I didn't know there was a NSW team, I didn't know there was an elite level of women's rugby league, I just started playing for the fun of it.
"It was seven years ago when I started and I was the only girl who came from a touch football background, the rest had come from rugby union.
"Over time we have become a really skilful sport and I'm really excited to see where we go in the next five years.
"Eight years later, we are live on television and little girls can watch us play and be inspired and say that is what I want to do when I'm older and be inspired just like young boys watching the NRL.
"It's great to see how far the game has come in a short space of time on the back of our hard work.
"When I think about how far this game is going to go, things like being broadcast live, it is making our time worthwhile to create that legacy. The girls in the future are going to get even more opportunities, which is great."
The NSW team went into camp in Wollongong recently and were boosted by the return of reigning Dally M Female Player of the Year Kezie Apps.
Apps broke her leg playing for the Jillaroos in the NRL Auckland Nines in February and has been fighting to make it back on to the field ever since.
The popular forward is also one of the toughest players in the game and will be key to NSW's chances or retaining the Nellie Doherty Cup.
"Kezzie is going so great and that is a testament to how resilient she is and what a hard worker she is," Bremner said.
"We did testing on the weekend and she basically got all the scores that she got while she was in Jillaroos camp before the Nines where she broke her leg. So I think that did wonders for her confidence and she needed that going into the Interstate Challenge.
"You need that confidence boost and I'm so happy to have her back, she's a massive threat to Queensland and I love playing alongside her and seeing her out there. She's stinging to be back playing.
"We are such a tightknit group, we've all felt how it feels to not being able to play, so we are just as happy as she is to have her back and she definitely inspires our squad."
The Interstate Challenge will take place at WIN Stadium on July 23 and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports.
This article first appeared on NRL.com