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Harvey Norman National Championships: 14 players to watch

From an AFLW star to former Super Rugby representatives and everything in-between, the Harvey Norman National Championships is set to unearth the next generation of female talent.

With expansion in the NRLW a strong possibility this season, several players taking part in the tournament could see themselves earning elite contracts with NRL clubs over the next few months.

The event begins on Thursday with players from across the country set to collide in Redcliffe across four days with all matches live-streamed on NRL.com.

Here are NRL.com's players to watch for the tournament.

Opens

Alison Dennis (second row - Australian Defence Force)

Alison Dennis is a tough back-rower who plays for North Sydney in the Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership. The Navy marine technician will return for her second championships after making her debut with the ADF in 2018. Dennis has impressed many with her ability to adapt to the game over the past three years after a background in karate and horse riding.

Akira Kelly.
Akira Kelly. ©NRL Photos

Akira Kelly (five-eighth- First Nation's Gems)

Called into the Gems squad late, Akira Kelly is a rising playmaker who made her Indigenous All Stars debut in 2021 and plays for South Sydney in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership. Kelly is also a talented golfer but with the rugby league ball in hand has the skills and awareness to use the tournament as a springboard to take her game to the next level.

Brooke Walker (five-eighth - Victoria)

A former Australian rugby sevens star and current AFLW player at Carlton, Walker will look to adapt her skills from both codes to rugby league. A naturally astute kicker of the ball, Walker has great game awareness. She will be crucial to Victoria's chances.

NSW seek redemption, Maroons chase back-to-back

Zahn Anthony (five-eighth - South Australia)

Another cross-code talent looking to make her mark in rugby league, Zahn Anthony brings a strong sporting resume with her to the Championships with over a decade of experience in touch football, AFL and rugby union. While she hasn't played a lot of rugby league aside from 7s and 9s tournaments in Adelaide, it is expected that her speed, agility and adaptability will see her excel in Redcliffe.

Bianca Stokes (second row - Northern Territory)

A powerful back-rower in the NT local competition in Darwin, Bianca Stokes is a five-time Titans representative who will bring plenty of experience to the side throughout the tournament. Stokes plays a variety of sports in the Northern Territory including AFL and rugby union and has been on the cusp of representing the Indigenous All Stars side in previous seasons.

Claudia Foster (prop – Western Australia)

Born and raised by a rugby union-mad family in Perth, Claudia Foster had only ever known one code until she took an opportunity to play in a Western Australian tournament that encouraged players to transition across to rugby league in 2019. The former RugbyWA forward hasn't looked back since, quitting rugby union with the long-term goal of playing for an NRLW club one day.  

NSW City forward Fatafehi Hanisi.
NSW City forward Fatafehi Hanisi. ©Bryden Sharp/NSWRL

Players to watch - under 19s

Fatafehi Hanisi (prop - NSW City)

The surname may sound familiar and for good reason. Fatafehi Hanisi will be one to watch in the under 19s tournament, fresh off a player of the match performance in the Tarsha Gale Cup competition for St Geoge. A powerful forward just like older sister, State of Origin representative Filomina, the young gun could find herself with an NRLW contract by the end of the four days.

Teagan Berry (winger - NSW Country)

One of only a few players in the tournament with NRLW experience, Teagan Berry is a rising outside back who hails from Port Macquarie but resides in Shellharbour. She scored a memorable long-range try in an under 18s State of Origin match in 2019 that generated over 13 million views on Facebook. Berry made her NRLW debut for the Dragons last year, scoring a try and kicking a goal in a 22-10 loss.

Dragons winger Teagan Berry.
Dragons winger Teagan Berry. ©NRL Photos

Tiana Raftstrand-Smith (five-eighth - Queensland Ruby's)

A local product of Keebra Park High School, Raftstrand-Smith is a promising utility who can play in the halves, backline or at lock and is considered one of the brightest young talents in the game. Raftstrand-Smith returned to rugby league after a brief stint in rugby union, where she excelled. She was instrumental in Keebra's recent win over Marsden State High School in the open women's decider on the Gold Coast and recently made her senior debut at Burleigh, scoring a try.

Tiana Raftstrand-Smith.
Tiana Raftstrand-Smith. ©QRL Media

Destiny Brill (halfback - Queensland Sapphires)

The young gun has made waves on the rugby union scene recently and will get her first crack in the senior league representative arena this week after strong showings for Valleys in the BHP Premiership. In her three games for the Diehards this season, Brill has managed 22 tackle busts and nine offloads. Named at hooker for the Sapphires, Brill has all the pedigree and skill to earn higher honours in the near future. 

Mena Layfield (five-eighth - Victoria)

A strong ball runner who has been playing beyond her years in the women's competition in Victoria and performing well. Layfield will start in the halves for the Victorians but can also play fullback. She is coming off a two-try performance for club side Doveton/Casey and produces a great kicking game.

Claire Ferguson (five-eighth - South Australia)

A rugby union convert, Claire Ferguson will captain her state in their first National Championships after returning strong physical results from recent performance testing. Ferguson has a long history of sporting achievements in state athletics in both field and track and is expected to transition across to league easily with her skillset suited to the code.  

Women's State of Origin returns to the Sunshine Coast

Rease Casey (prop - Northern Territory)

Teenager Rease Casey has spent the last five years chasing her rugby league dream with regular trips from Darwin to Queensland for further opportunities in the game. A promising middle forward, Casey spent time with the Sydney Roosters Tarsha Gale Cup squad in 2019 after being noticed by then-coach Dean Widders. 

Nina Rutene (halfback - Western Australia)

Residing in Port Hedland, a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Perth, and where rugby league has recorded a 291% rise in participation over the past 12 months, Nina Rutene found her love of rugby league after playing touch football, rugby union and basketball growing up. Rutene moved to Australia from New Zealand when she was 13 and is looking to make her mark in the halves.

 

Women’s Origin tickets are on sale via NRL Tickets. Supporters can watch the historic match from just $5 for juniors, $15 for adults and $35 for families

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