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The Broader Game: Upton upbeat about Origin but treading carefully

Star Maroons fullback Tamika Upton is confident she'll be available for women's State of Origin on June 25 despite managing an ongoing stress fracture in her back.

Upton is rated one of the best players in the women's game and was a huge part of Queensland's 2020 success but has been struggling with the injury.

With a busy women's schedule this year, including the possibility of expansion in the NRLW and the World Cup later in the year, the 24-year-old won't be taking any risks with her return.

"My rehab is going really great. I'm ready to play but I have to treat it very carefully," Upton told NRL.com.

"The reason I'm not playing is to build my body up. If it needs rest, it needs rest and that's how you have to treat it, you have to preserve the body for the long haul. 

"That's half the reason my physio and I are being very careful, especially if NRLW expands that's more games in itself."

Upton would be one of the most sought-after players in the NRLW market if rival clubs planned a raid on the Broncos' premiership-winning team this year.

Tamika Upton's 2020 season highlights

As cool as ever, Upton isn't fazed by any possible changes ahead in an exciting time for the game.

"It will be interesting to see how it all goes over the next few months," Upton said.

"The Broncos are a very good club with a very good coach. Whether they lose players or get players they'll still be very competitive.

"They'll unearth some raw talent that we've never heard of before and those girls will do a job."

Upton made the move from Rockhampton to the Gold Coast this season in a bid to focus on her rugby league career.

She lives with Broncos teammate Millie Boyle, the pair going head-to-head in last year's State of Origin clash for the first time.

"Making the move was a bit scary at the start but I've had plenty of people helping me out and with a new job I'm absolutely loving that," Upton said.

"Millie is very organised but is on the go 24/7. I barely see her and I live with her. Everything is 100 miles an hour with her."

QRL boosts funds for Maroons players 

The QRL will be kicking in more dollars for its elite women’s players in 2021, increasing training and camp payments in a bid to move towards equal remuneration for representing the Maroons.

State of Origin match payments remain unchanged at $2000 for each player “in alignment with NSWRL, NRLW clubs and Jillaroos international payments”.

The Maroons say any change in this area would require negotiation with multiple parties, including the Rugby League Players' Association.

Origin players will get up to a further $6500 to help cover the training period in the lead-up to the June 25 clash at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

The match fee for the men’s players will remain at $15,000.

Women's State of Origin returns to the Sunshine Coast

Decision pending 

Still on NRLW expansion and further clarity around the immediate future of the competition and what it will look like is expected to be confirmed by the end of the month.

The ARL Commission confirmed they are weighing up the possibility of expanding the women's elite competition to six teams in 2021 and were consulting with key stakeholders, broadcasters, players and officials.

The mooted expansion could mean an increase in squad sizes and a possible 80-100 rising players competing at the top level this season.

NRLW officials at inaugural clubs will get a good look this week on the young talent coming through the game with the Harvey Norman National Championships getting underway on Thursday.

Roosters on Kelly hunt

Don't be surprised to see Isabelle Kelly re-join the Roosters in the NRLW this season after the appointment of John Strange as head coach in February.

Kelly played the first two seasons with the Roosters before shifting to the Dragons last season.

Strange is Kelly's coach at club level on the Central Coast with the pair sharing a strong bond.

Quizzed this week about whether her she could back at the Roosters this season, Kelly offered a wry smile. 

An ankle injury suffered against the Broncos cut Isabelle Kelly's NRLW season short in 2020.
An ankle injury suffered against the Broncos cut Isabelle Kelly's NRLW season short in 2020. ©NRL Photos

"We've had some conversations but we'll just have to weigh it up and see," she said. 

"John is probably one of the best coaches I've ever had. He's helped me grow my game so much.

"I feel like this year could be a really good year for me, and hopefully injury-free."

A possible move to fullback is also not out of the question with Kelly enjoying the No.1 role under Strange this year.

"Just being around the ball and learning all the plays I've learned so much," she said.

"There's a lot of good fullbacks out there so it would all depend on the team dynamic if I moved positions."

Annette Brander in action for the Maroons in 2019.
Annette Brander in action for the Maroons in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Jillaroos forward hobbled

Maroons and Jillaroos forward Annette Brander won't play in this year's State of Origin clash for Queensland after undergoing ankle surgery this week.

Brander picked up an ankle concern in round one of the BHP Premiership and continued to play another three games before scans revealed the full extent of the injury.

The 28-year-old is hopeful of making a return later in the year but for now joins Tamika Upton (back) and Meg Ward (knee) on the sidelines for Queensland coach Tahnee Norris in the lead-up to her first game in charge of Origin. 

NSW seek redemption, Maroons chase back-to-back

Sims signs on for Blues' shot at redemption

Former NSW forward Ruan Sims has joined the women's Origin coaching staff.

The retired commentator sat alongside NSW coach Kylie Hilder and assistant Geoff Toovey in the City-Country clash at Bankwest Stadium last week as Hilder looks to finalise her team for the June 25 clash on the Sunshine Coast.

The contest provided plenty of food for thought but may have also made the trio's job that little bit harder as they move towards naming a squad next month.

 

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

 

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