Ahead of the rescheduled NRL Telstra Women's Premiership, NRL.com profiles the next crop of talent ready to make their mark in 2022.
- Name: Natassja Purontakanen
- Age: 29
- NRLW club: Dragons
- Position: Second row
At 29, Dragons recruit Natassja Purontakanen isn't your typical NRLW rookie.
The former Queensland Reds rugby convert arrives to the NRLW determined to make up for lost time after serious injury setbacks in previous years.
Purontakanen, who made a successful return from back-to-back ACL reconstructions in 2021, was introduced to the code when she began dating former Broncos winger Meg Ward in 2018.
"I was a softball girl growing up and I played casual touch footy here or there," Purontakanen told NRL.com.
"I had a friend who played sevens and I always wanted to play footy of some sort but there weren't a lot of opportunities for girls back then so I just cut it off and looked into other sports."
After two seasons at the Reds, the financial planner switched codes but partially tore her ACL four minutes into her first club game in 2019, ending her maiden campaign.
She returned to the paddock nine months later before another setback with the same knee ruled her out for most of the 2020 season.
It was during the tough times she was able to form a stronger bond with Ward, who too has had her own injury struggles.
Ward will miss joining Purontakanen at the Dragons in 2022 after she underwent career-threatening neck surgery in October, however, she will remain part of the club's coaching staff.
"We bounce off each other when it comes to injuries but we both have a better understanding of how mentally hard it is to be injured," Purontakanen said.
"You don't have that release of sport and the comradery when you're injured so it's nice to be able to lean on each other.
"We were really looking forward to playing at that level together but her health comes first. We're grateful for the opportunity from the Dragons to be part of it all.
"I just want to enjoy the experience and make the most of it because you never know how long you've got in the game."
Purontakanen said her biggest code-switch adjustment has come mentally with the late bloomer often doubting herself.
"But I'm lucky to have good teammates who will stay back and do extras with me at training if I'm not sure about something," she said.
"It's one of the upsides to league, the environment is so friendly and that helps you transition much more easily."
Soward pleased after finalising NRLW squad
As for Purontakanen and Ward's future plans, the Queensland-based couple will marry in January.
"We're going down to Wollongong for pre-season and then are flying back for the wedding," she said.
"We planned it for January 18 months ago certain there would be no footy commitments and then, of course, it all gets postponed and we're starting in February. We'll make the most of it."