Why it’s one step forward, but another one back in women’s Origin evolution


Over the years I’ve heard all the excuses about lack of investment or interest in women’s sport.

But the reality is, that the hard work of our athletes can only go so far if the underlying conditions don’t support them to be the best versions of themselves on the field.

It’s for that reason that despite my excitement, I still really struggle with playing Women’s State of Origin before the season starts.

It not only means that the players are unlikely to be in their best form, but it must be hard for coaches Kylie Hilder and Tahnee Norris to pick their best team.

To combat sluggishness and lack of footy, some of the NSW women have adopted a fly-in fly-out approach to play in the Queensland state-based competition. This is a big commitment and for women who need to continue to work to pay the bills, potentially too much to ask.

But onto the game itself. It’s the first time that the women will feature in a three-game series. This is a move that the game had to make as determining the winner based on an aggregate scoreline just did not work. I remember NSW winning Game II last year but looking distressed at the end given that they had not done enough to prevent Queensland from winning the shield.

So who are the key players to watch out for in each team?

New South Wales

Jamie Chapman has had an incredible start to her footy career captaining the Harvey Norman under 19s SOO side, winning a World Cup with the Jillaroos in 2022 and scoring three tries (albeit in a losing team) for the Gold Coast Titans in their Grand Final loss last year.

The most exciting thing about Chapman is that she is a product of the pathway, beginning her footy career in the Tarsha Gale Cup. Chapman is an example of the success of the pathway and a hint at what is to come as this pathway becomes the norm for more girls wanting to play rugby league.

You can be almost certain that if Chapman scores a try that it won’t be her only for the night.

The big question for NSW is around their halves pairing. Rachael Pearson has been recalled into the squad after being dropped for Game II last year with a major focus for her being to focus on organisation and to play a more assertive type of rugby league.

Rachael Pearson. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Her halves partner is Corban Baxter who returns to the squad after taking some time away to give birth. While usually a fullback, no doubt Hilder will be looking to Pearson as the organising half and for Baxter to play more of the running half role.

There’s also been a shift for Keeley Davis, who has bulked up and is moving to lock. It’s not completely new, as she does shift between lock and hooker when she plays for the Roosters. She’s one of my favourite players and I’m looking forward to seeing what she can produce in her fourth Origin.

Otherwise for NSW it is a settled squad, particularly the backline that has not changed.

There’s plenty of players that can create opportunity out of very little so no doubt the Blues will look to give as much early ball to Jessica Sergis and Isabelle Kelly.


For Queensland, it is very much business as usual. Norris has named almost the exact same team as last year and it makes sense; there is no point in changing a winning formula.

One player to watch is Mackenzie Weale who will be making her Origin debut after the withdrawal of Keilee Jospeh following an MCL injury at training last week.

Robinson’s double from Game I last year to celebrate 2️⃣ days until #Origin ????????

???? Get your tickets for this year’s Origin series today: https://t.co/LZPx9HlURz pic.twitter.com/19qwDYIlc2

— NRLW (@NRLWomens) May 14, 2024

Rather than focus on danger players like Ali Brigginshaw, who seems to improve year on year despite being closer to the end of her career than the beginning, or Shannon Mato and Jessika Elliston who were a dynamic powerhouse for the Gold Coast Titans last year, I want to focus on one area that I think Queensland have a distinct advantage in and that’s time together.

As mentioned above, the Queensland state-based competition has preceded Origin, which means most of the women in the Queensland team have had the benefit of playing week-to-week footy.

The same cannot be said for many of the NSW players. Whilst the NSW players have been in a seven week training camp, its simply not the same. The players that have opted to fly-in and fly-out of Queensland will have benefitted, but it’s not been possible for many of the players who have work and family commitments to juggle.

For that reason, I’m tipping Queensland to win Game I. But thank goodness we have a three game series this year, which means we will likely still have a live series after Game II in Newcastle.

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