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Pathway to the top: Success stories of the National Championships

Julia Robinson, Tiana Penitani and Tiana Raftstrand-Smith.

They’re the three examples of success stories to come out of the Harvey Norman National Championships in recent years with many more to follow after the 2022 tournament.

The four-day event unearths Australia’s next crop of female talent and with NRLW expansion on the horizon, never before has the tournament been so crucial for pathway development.

Robinson is the 2018 example of a success story, going from the Australian Defence Force side at the Championships to making her Test debut for Australia within four months.

Likewise, Penitani the following year in 2019, when she starred for NSW City on the Gold Coast before wearing green and gold a few months later, fresh off a return to rugby league.

Robinson scores on debut

The cancellation of the Championships in 2020 proved a hurdle but its return in 2021 has proven to be the most successful of tournaments yet.

Raftstrand-Smith is just one of several players who made their NRLW debut only months after representing Queensland in the under 19s division.

At 18, Raftstrand-Smith became one of the youngest Origin debutants when she pulled on the Maroons jersey just a fortnight after being named Tahnee Norris medal winner for player of the under 19s tournament.

She was joined by Maroons teammate Destiny Brill, who was another to go from the Championships to both Origin and the NRLW.

Roosters premiership-winner Keilee Joseph scored two tries in the under 19s final for the Queensland Sapphires before going on to become

She’s now in line to make her State of Origin debut for the Maroons on June 24.

Other Maroons hopefuls who have kicked on from the Championships include Broncos forward Sara Sautia, Titans centre Jasmine Peters and prop April Ngatupuna.

Tiana Raftstrand-Smith and Jasmine Peters have both gone on to play in the NRLW after featuring at the 2021 National Championships.
Tiana Raftstrand-Smith and Jasmine Peters have both gone on to play in the NRLW after featuring at the 2021 National Championships. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Dragons winger Teagan Berry has exceled at the NRLW level after turning out for NSW Country last year.

Berry was granted an exemption to play given she had already made her NRLW debut. 

Others to make their NRLW debut after featuring at the Championships include Kyra Simon (Knights), Shannon Evans (Knights), Lauren Brown (Titans), Jetaya Faifua (Titans), Jada Ferguson (Broncos) and Nakita Sao (Broncos).

NSW City forward Fatafehi Hanisi (Eels) and First Nations Gems player Bree Chester (Knights) were signed by NRLW clubs but didn't play a game due to injury.

Parramatta have signed Carlton AFLW star Brooke Walker to an NRLW deal this upcoming season after she starred for Victoria at the Championships last year.

Eels signing Brooke Walker represented Victoria at the Championships last year.
Eels signing Brooke Walker represented Victoria at the Championships last year. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

The Eels have also secured Rueben Cherrington, younger sister of Kennedy, after she played for NSW City as a teenager.

Cherrington will be back for a second Championships on June 9 before she pushes for an NRLW debut in August.


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