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NRLW 2020: The top five players of the year

As part of the NRL 2020 Annual, NRLW chief reporter Alicia Newton names her NRLW Team of the Year.


They were the standouts during a season where uncertainty was the theme of the year.

Despite the challenges of a 2020 season surrounded by uncertainty, these five players were able to battle through adversity and be the standout players of the women's rugby league season.

Three premiership-winning Broncos made the list, along with one reliable Rooster and a rugby sevens convert who stood tall at the Warriors. 

Ali Brigginshaw (Brisbane Broncos)

Widely regarded as the best player in the women's game, things could've gone differently for Ali Brigginshaw in 2020 if a global pandemic didn't get in the way.

After the Broncos fell short in their NRL Nines campaign in February, Brigginshaw returned to her club side Ipswich and suffered a syndesmosis injury that sidelined her for two months.

The postponement of the State of Origin fixture to November worked to her advantage with the 31-year-old returning to her best after surgery.

Brigginshaw the master as Harden scores untouched

Brigginshaw has always been part of successful sides but in a year like no other she was at a personal consistent best from the Brisbane Broncos' NRLW campaign to the State of Origin clash.

A move to the lock role took her game to another level, where she took out the prestigious Dally M medal in a career first. The Ipswich junior has vision and game management that other playmakers in the game aspire to.

Brigginshaw and Hancock lift shield

Amber Hall (Brisbane Broncos)

It was a whirlwind year for Kiwi Ferns prop Amber Hall, who was no guarantee to join the Broncos in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions between Australia and New Zealand.

Hall agreed to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival into Australia and was at her damaging best in a new role on the edge for the Broncos.

Amber Hall the wrecking ball

However, controversy struck following the round two clash against the Dragons with Hall suspended for a week over a dangerous tackle on Isabelle Kelly.

Hall returned a fortnight later in the NRLW grand final to claim player-of-the-match honours with a try, a game-high 154 metres, three offloads and five tackle busts. Hall returned to New Zealand for another 14-day quarantine following the Broncos' win. 

Evania Pelite (Warriors)

When news began to filter through that some of Australia's best rugby sevens talent was coming to the NRLW, few were familiar with the name Evania Pelite.

A self-confessed rookie in rugby league, Pelite joined Charlotte Caslick and Ellia Green to cross codes and made the left edge her own at the Warriors.

The 25-year-old scored three tries in three appearances, including one on debut, along with two try assists, 22 tackle busts and four offloads.

Pelite scores from the kick-off

With the ability to palm away defenders at will before sending Green into space, the pair generated enough attack for the Warriors to be at their competitive best in the competition.

Pelite was later named the Warriors' player of the year and the hope is that when the Tokyo Olympic games are completed the Caboolture local will return again and look to build on her three-game stint.

Hannah Southwell (Sydney Roosters)

Since rising to the representative arena in 2018, Newcastle local Hannah Southwell has always worn the 'underrated' tag with her versatility and ability to come up with special defensive plays the cornerstone to her game.

In 2020, the praises came in thick and fast. Southwell pulled off a number of bone-rattling tackles during the NRLW competition in the middle of the paddock, taking on opposing players who outmatched her in size.

NRLW Tackle of the Year - Hannah Southwell

She was instrumental in the Roosters' push towards the NRLW grand final and relished the opportunity to play in a more mobile forward pack that was on the front foot.

If not for being rested in round three against the Broncos, Southwell could've pipped Ali Brigginshaw for Dally M honours after falling short by three points in the count.

However she was acknowledged by the RLPA to win the NRLW Players' Champion award, voted by her opposing players. Southwell finished the year as one of NSW's best in a beaten State of Origin side.

Southwell honoured by RLPA accolade

Tamika Upton (Brisbane Broncos)

Speed, agility and pure skill, Tamika Upton picked up where she left off in the 2019 NRLW grand final to emerge as one of the game's most elite players.

The Rockhampton local is example of generation next coming through the Australian pathways system with five tries in four games during the NRLW matched with another two tries in State of Origin.

Upton's ability to find space and finish off a backline play is among the best in the game. Her tall, lanky frame makes her an opposition's nightmare in defence.

If not for superstar Broncos teammate Ali Brigginshaw, Upton could've quite easily earned more individual accolades in 2020. If she wasn't the best player on the field on any occasion, she wasn't too far behind.

Tamika Upton doing what she does best


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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National Rugby League respects and honours 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 Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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