The emergence of St George Illawarra Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson is one of the highlights of Harvey Norman NSW Sky Blues coach Kylie Hilder’s new-look women’s State of Origin squad.
While there is a healthy presence from the 2021 NSW team (15) in the 24-player squad named this week, there are eight new faces plus a familiar one in back-rower Shaylee Bent, who was part of the 2020 Origin line-up after being a reserve in 2019.
The squad has representatives from five of the six NRLW teams: 12 St George Illawarra Dragons, seven Sydney Roosters, three Parramatta Eels, one Brisbane Bronco and one Newcastle Knight.
Pearson’s maiden NRLW season with the Dragons contained some gems – an average of 170 kicking metres per game and a 95% tackle efficiency rate, on top of the obvious passing and try-assist skills.
“She’s sort of come from nowhere really,” Hilder told nswrl.com.au.
“She played for the Helensburgh Tigers last year and caught my eye…just her control of the game on top of her kicking has been outstanding in the NRLW this year.
“Obviously you really need that kind of control in an Origin match.”
While Pearson is in her late 20s, Hilder has brought in three rising stars in Olivia Kernick, who played all seven NRLW games this year for the Roosters and scored three tries; plus Dragons centre Jaime Chapman and winger Teagan Berry.
Kernick played for the Maori All-Stars in February, while Chapman scored a double for the Indigenous team.
“We’ve got some young ones coming through like Olivia Kernick, who played with the (NSW) Under 18s in 2019 and she’s now maturing into a really good back-rower,” Hilder said.
“Jaime Chapman, who was captain, and Teagan Berry were both in the winning Under 19s side for us last year.
“So those three coming through is really positive and showing the NSWRL pathways are working.”
Hilder also takes great pride in the fact joint Dally M Medallists for 2021, prop Millie Boyle and fullback Emma Tonegato, are in her NSW Origin squad.
“Emma had a stellar year with the RLPA Players’ Champion award plus the Dragons ‘Player of the Year’ while another of our backline in Isabelle Kelly picked up the Roosters ‘Player of the Year’,” she said.
“I’d also like to acknowledge that fullback Botille Vette-Welsh (Eels) and winger Brydie Parker (Roosters) would have been in the 24-player squad if not for their season-ending knee injuries.”
The squad will now be reduced to 20 players after the women’s City-Country game on 14 May with Hilder emphasising players can still push their selection claims from the representative match.
The fifth Ampol Women’s State of Origin game will be held on Friday 24 June at Canberra’s GIO Stadium.
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