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Queensland coach Tahnee Norris has praised the influence that Olympic gold medallist Evania Pelite and 40-year-old Steph Hancock has had on the Maroons squad ahead of the upcoming State of Origin clash.

Pelite and Hancock, the former Jillaroos captain who celebrated her 40th birthday during the recently completed 2021 NRLW season, were among five changes from last year's team for the June 24 clash with NSW at Canberra’s GIO Stadium.

Former Queensland rugby sevens star Emily Bass was also named to make her Origin debut, along with Pelite, while Brittany Breayley-Nati and Jessika Elliston were recalled after missing last year’s Origin.

©NRL.com

“There is some absolute quality with the experience we have got and then we have got a couple of freshies there, who I am looking forward to seeing what they can produce in their first time in the Maroons colours,” Norris said.

“Two of them are from the rugby sevens programs, and with Evania Pelite, I am really excited to see what  she can do for us.

“There’s some experience there, with Steph Hancock coming back into the mix as one of our older players.

“She is a fine wine. She has got a real presence and she is like the mother figure for the young girls and they really look up to her.

“She bleeds Maroon, and you can see that when she is training and her efforts that she puts in.”

Steph Hancock turned 40 in March but gets better with age
Steph Hancock turned 40 in March but gets better with age ©NRL Photos

Norris said Pelite had also had a significant influence on her team-mates at both NRLW and Origin level since returning from rugby sevens this season.

The 2016 Olympian, who helped Australia to a gold medal in Rio, starred for the Titans in their inaugural season and was a finalist in the Dally M awards.

“Seeing how Evania was as an athlete and her professionalism with how she trains and mentally prepares for the game has had a really good impact on the girls behind the scenes,” Norris said.

“It is only going to get better for the NRLW players coming through to see what it takes to be a fulltime athlete, and she is exactly what we need."

With Newcastle-bound Tamika Upton retaining the No.1 jersey, Pelite will play in the centres and Norris revealed she had spoken with Knights captain Romy Teitzel about moving to the second-row.

Evania Pelite has had a huge influence on team-mates with her professionalism
Evania Pelite has had a huge influence on team-mates with her professionalism ©NRL Photos

 Teitzel, who starred in her new role for North Queensland Gold Stars in Saturday’s grand final defeat of Central Coast Capras, has been named in the extended squad, along with Zahara Temara, Karina Brown, Keilee Joseph and Sara Sautia.

Temara and Brown were among the players to make way from last year’s team, while Rona Peters, Shaniah Power and Brianna Clark.

Breayley-Nati was unavailable last year due to work commitments but the QRL’s decision to increase pay to $15,000 – the same as the Maroons men’s team will earn in Wednesday night’s Origin – has enabled the former Jillaroos hooker to play.

 “To be able to pay the girls the same amount of money and to have her presence back in the squad this year it has definitely made a difference to the girls,” Norris said.

“I think it is really important to the women’s game that we do that across both states, so if we can get NSW to follow suit we are on the right path.

“I still think we have got a long way to go and obviously we want to grow the competition, so the girls actually deserve the money they get.

“We want to keep improving, getting its own fan base, getting its own crowds, getting its own media and I think it is well and truly on the right path at the moment to get that. We just need to keep fighting and putting it out there.

“You will see with our Origin and you saw it with the first NRLW season this year, it is great to watch so it does have its own base and the girls deserve to be on the same money.”

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