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Jillaroos coach Brad Donald knows 50 of Australia's best female talent won't fit into his World Cup squad of 24 in October but has declared spots on the offering for emerging stars this year. 

The Jillaroos last played a Test match against New Zealand in 2019 with 15 of the 17 players who featured in the match still competing in the NRLW this current season.

Only nine players remain in the NRLW from Australia's 2017 World Cup squad, however, with injuries and retirements forcing the squad turnover expected later this year.

The Jillaroos are the reigning World Cup champions, ranked first in the world, following tournament victories in 2013 and 2017.

"One of the exciting things for us is the talent coming through, there's a great opportunity for the younger players to earn a jersey," Donald told NRL.com.

"If you look at the Jillaroos team in 2015, then 2017 and 2019, it's evolved a lot. And in another three years' time it will evolve again.

Only nine players remain in the NRLW from Brad Donald's 2017 World Cup squad.
Only nine players remain in the NRLW from Brad Donald's 2017 World Cup squad. ©NRL Photos

"We've got a number of incumbent players who are standing up in club games, players like Keeley Davis and Tazmin Gray, who are showing the expectations we expect week-in-week-out on and off the field.

"Players like that have got an upper hand because we know about what they bring but then there's players like Tamika Upton and Destiny Brill who are really putting their hand up as well.

"But we need to keep seeing that consistency from all of the younger players throughout the year. If they do that they're every chance of taking a spot in the squad."

Tazmin Gray forces herself over

The Australian coach, who took over from the late Steve Folkes in 2016, is set to have plenty of selection headaches during the second season of NRLW later this year if the opening two weeks of the rescheduled season is anything to go by.

With an abundance of depth in each position, particularly at fullback, Donald and his coaching staff will be spoilt for choice if players can get through the busy calendar year fit and healthy.

From the likes of Upton and Botille Vette-Welsh to returning Jillaroo Emma Tonegato and rugby sevens convert Evania Pelite, Donald also has incumbent Corban Baxter and Sam Bremner as fullback options alone. 

Donald said no matter the talent, his final calls at the end of the year will be down to performance both on and off the paddock with character coming into play.

"It takes a certain player to be a Jillaroo," he said.

"They have to have our four values - respect, inspire, be selfless and have excellence, and that's 24/7, not just in a camp environment with us.

Tamika Upton finishes off a beautiful Broncos move

"The past comes into play when knowing a player's character and the off-field stuff. This has been a commitment since I took over, asking the girls what they wanted. 

"We'd love to able to get 30-40 together for a bit of a cultural camp later in the year and to iron out a few of those expectations. Get some of the old girls in to talk about what it means to play in a World Cup and hopefully inspire.

"There's a big workload so we need 40-50 girls competing against each other. That will only increase the intensity and quality of the NRLW this year as well.

"Add in the Kiwi players and those from other nations in the NRLW, the more we all push each other in competition's the better the World Cup is going to be."

Titans lose another

Injuries have struck the Gold Coast again in the engine room with Maori All Stars representative Shannon Mato ruled out for the remainder of the 2021 competition with a knee injury.

Mato suffered a grade three MCL tear against the Roosters and faces around 6-8 weeks on the sidelines. 

In a positive, she was cleared of any ACL damage and is expected to return later in the year for possible Origin selection and the second NRLW season.

Mato keeps the Titans alive

Pelite's classy response

Titans fullback Evania Pelite offered a classy response after an unfortunate wardrobe mishap during the Roosters clash at WIN Stadium on Sunday.

The Titans No.1 got herself into an uncomfortable situation in the first half when her jersey and sports bra were pulled above her chest during a tackle, leaving viewers with vision of her breasts.

However, Pelite took the classy approach this week to address the moment after it was shared online.

"I'm not embarrassed and I shouldn't be made to feel that way, I'm proud of my body for everything it allows me to do," Pelite wrote on Instagram.

"It's an unfortunate incident but boobs are boobs, and technically I think my legs are more impressive, and I've got some pretty neat skills too."

Pelite has been a star since joining the Titans this year, averaging 158 metres with 11 tackle busts in two appearances. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Bremner edges closer to return

Former Jillaroos fullback Sam Bremner will begin to hit the paddock this month as she continues her journey back from the birth of her second child last year.

Bremner revealed via her Fox League commentary commitments on Sunday she received a call from Jamie Soward last week about the opportunity to join the Dragons for the remainder of the first competition.

However, Bremner knocked back the offer, believing it was too early for her body to stand up to the rigours of the NRLW.

Bremner will make a return to the field for Cronulla in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership starting next month before setting goals to return in the NRLW and possibly Origin in June.

Bremner: I’ll make my own rules

Purontakanen's bold bid to return

Natassja Purontakanen is hopeful of playing again this season after the bold decision to knock back surgery for a third knee reconstruction in January. 

Purontakanen was due to join the Dragons for the 2021 season but suffered her third serious knee injury in four years during just her second week of training at the club. 

However, the 29-year-old has elected to not undergo a full knee reconstruction this time, instead taking a conservative management approach.

She's completed a block of rehab that's included straight line running and agility, and will now enter a contact phase with the aim of returning to the field by mid-April.

"It's still a bit of a trial and error process on how I will cope without it but I'm seven weeks in so far and I'm feeling great," Purontakanen said.

Drinkwater joins NRL

Former Broncos NRLW CEO Tain Drinkwater will return to rugby league next month after a 12-month stint with Netball NSW.

Drinkwater will join the NRL as new head of performance & pathways for the men's and women's teams.

Drinkwater spent two seasons at the Broncos in 2019-2020 as the first-ever club CEO in the NRLW. 

 

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

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