By Jim Morton
Former NSW State of Origin mentor Graham Murray will make a return to coaching this year, taking charge of the Australian women's team - the Jillaroos.
Murray will team with former Test and Broncos winger Michael Hancock in guiding the Jillaroos, starting with a pre-season camp on the Gold Coast next month.
The Jillaroos, who defeated New Zealand for the first time in a decade last year, will play the Kiwis again in 2010 while there are plans afoot for a Tri-Nations tournament also involving England.
It's mooted for during the men's Four Nations in October-November, and Murray said it was his goal for Australia to topple NZ as No.1 in the women's game.
Murray, who twice led teams to the NRL grand final and was in charge of NSW in 2006-07, last coached the North Queensland Cowboys in 2008 before standing down after a poor start to the season.
"Rugby league has always been a passion of mine and I still love the game and I've had a bit of time off and it's been really good, I feel refreshed and the opportunity to be involved with an Australian side ... a decision was pretty easy for me," he said.
"I'm really excited about it and enthusiastic about being back at this (grass-roots) level."
Gold Coast-based Jillaroos skipper Tahnee Norris said Murray's coaching appointment was a major boost for league's quiet achievers.
"It's fantastic for women's rugby league, it's been a long time coming for someone of such high profile to be involved in the game," she said.
Women's league has languished behind women's rugby union for profile but Norris felt rugby's Olympic inclusion in sevens would have a positive spin-off for league, which she rated tougher.
"It is more of a touch-based game for the women's rugby union so I don't think we'll have that much competition for it," she said.
"I think in the past a lot of girls have played both and hopefully now they will just pick one or the other."
Jillaroos trainer Hancock had no doubts about the toughness and commitment of his new charges.
"I have seen them play and honestly I would have my doubts going out there and playing against them," he said. "They rip in, there's no fear factor amongst them, so that's a start.
"From there you can get your teeth amongst them and teach them the skills."