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Former Jillaroos and rugby sevens star Emma Tonegato will return to the code in 2022 after signing with St George Illawarra for the postponed NRLW competition early next year. 

Tonegato announced her departure from the Australian rugby sevens program last month after eight years and more recently playing in her second Olympic games campaign in Tokyo.

It's a welcome return to rugby league for the 26-year-old Wollongong junior, who was previously part of the Australian Jillaroos side that was victorious in the 2013 World Cup in England. 

"I'm super excited to be a part of the Dragons, it's a great club and has a strong history in Wollongong," Tonegato said in a statement on Monday.

"My career started in rugby league here in Wollongong, I played for the Helensburgh Tiger Lillies and ended up being selected for the Jillaroos from there.

Emma Tonegato bagged a hat-trick for the Jillaroos against France in 2013.
Emma Tonegato bagged a hat-trick for the Jillaroos against France in 2013. ©NRL Photos

"I've always wanted to see how I'd go playing in the NRLW especially since it wasn't around when I started playing. I'm looking forward to seeing how I stack up against the other girls."

Tonegato played three Tests for the Jillaroos during the 2013 World Cup, scoring a hat-trick against France in Featherstone.

She switched codes to the Australian rugby program three months later to go on and forge a career in sevens which included securing an Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Capable of playing at fullback or on the wing, Tonegato is a suitable replacement for Sam Bremner (pregnancy) in the Dragons' No.1 jersey. 

Dragons general manager of football, Ben Haran, said Tonegato's signing was significant given the side's recent departures of star power. 

Emma Tonegato in action for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.
Emma Tonegato in action for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.

"The opportunity to bring someone with her experience across both codes is a big addition to our NRLW squad," Haran said.

"Her history playing rugby league within our region is a really great story for our young aspiring female players throughout our pathway systems.

"To secure a player of her quality and experience with ties to the region is certainly a positive and the club will only benefit from the arrival of Emma."

Tonegato is the 17th player signed by the Dragons with a further seven expected to be unveiled before pre-season begins in January. 

Another cross-code star, Charlotte Caslick, has confirmed she's unlikely to play in the NRLW next year due to a schedule clash with her rugby sevens program.

Caslick's switch to the Roosters in 2020 generated plenty of interest alongside Ellia Green and Evania Pelite but the 26-year-old will remain in the sevens circuit.

"I was hoping to play again with the Roosters so it was pretty disappointing that it didn't go ahead [this year]," Caslick told Sam Squiers' On Her Game podcast. 

"I was excited to play. I loved doing it and it was so fun, I learned a lot of new things and hopefully helped some of the girls there and taught them a few things."

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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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