Newly-minted Roosters captain Isabelle Kelly has heaped praise on her young Newcastle teammates ahead of the Central Coast squad’s return to the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership in Belmore this Saturday.
The state-based tri-colours outfit will restart their suspended 2020 campaign against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at 4.30pm this weekend. They have had their 16–10 loss to the Sharks from March scrubbed away, and their record reset to nil.
The team’s lineup, which coaches John Strange and Kylie Hilder announced on Tuesday evening, is stacked full of rising and proven Novocastrian talent. Kelly, who herself will be representing her hometown of Gosford for the first time, said she “couldn’t be more excited to get out on the field” alongside so many young, rising stars.
The 2018 Golden Boot winner has played with most of them before. A few, like Mounties signing Brydie Parker, from Muswellbrook, is new to the mostly-CRL Newcastle filled squad list. Others, like Hunter superstars Caitlan Johnston and Joeli Morris, have come through the Knights and Newcastle setup. Johnston has already played NRLW too.
“We’ve got a lot of new girls so that’s helped. We got Brydie [Parker] from the Mounties, as well as a few girls like Yasmin Meakes, who played rugby union, which has only made us stronger,” Kelly told NSWRL in the build-up to the new first round.
Caitlan and Joeli were two young starlets that Kelly pinpointed as the heart of Central Coast’s future talent. Johnston, in particular, is already knocking on the door; the Belmont forward, 19, has three top-flight NRLW appearances under her belt.
“Caitlan is a workhorse, she’s very aggressive in attack and defence, and really strong up the middle,” the Roosters skipper said. “I think having a mix of older and younger players is good and they’ve also helped us as well because it takes us back to basics.”
Morris, who missed out on a start in Round 1, is another who is learning everything she can from her Roosters teammates. Strange and Hilder have set the Wyong youngster a task: learn everything you can from Newcastle halfback star Mel Howard.
“Joeli has been running as our second halfback, so if anything was to happen to Mel she could step into the side with ease. She’s been learning under her, so I think that’s really helped her coming through,” Kelly said.
Morris may be sat on the bench, but the CRL Newcastle presence still runs thick in the first-round Roosters squad. Caitlan has been named at ‘ten’ alongside Talya Predebon. Alicia Martin and AFL convert Jocelyn Kelleher will start in the second row.
Bobbi Law, Howard, Hilder, and Hannah Southwell are other Newcastle stars named in the starting side. Lioness Olivia Higgins will start on the bench, as will CRL stars like Tazmyne Luschwitz and Olivia Kernick. Kelly is set to start at fullback.
Founding CRL Newcastle star Claire Reed, another Wyong product, will partner Howard in the halves in round one. The Central Coast five-eighth has been crowned the Roosters’ vice-captain for the season.
“Claire is our vice-captain, she’s very experienced and she’s played a lot of sport with all of us as well so she knows what she’s doing. If I’m not there leading them around I’m sure she’ll be doing just fine,” Kelly said of her captaincy offsider.
The Roosters fullback admits the premiership refresh hasn’t been too bad for the Central Coast side. Their six-point loss to the Sharks all the way back in March got them off to a shakey start, but they’ve improved in “leaps and bounds” since then.
“I think in that first round we hadn’t really gelled completely as a team yet, I know the Sharks played really well and they deserved the win but we had a lot to improve on from that game and now we’ve had more time we’re actually a lot stronger compared to what we were then,” she said.
“The last few weeks when we’ve been at training everyone’s been putting in a lot of effort and throughout COVID the girls got a lot of programs and everyone came back a lot fitter and stronger, which is quite surprising considering the circumstances.
“I know that I came back a lot fitter and stronger, just having a bit of time to work on my body and everything like that so I think it’s been a bit of blessing.
“I think everyone knew that going back into footy it wasn’t going to be one of those competitions where you can ease your way into it, it’s going to be one of those competitions where you get going straight away so it’s been very exciting and the girls are really keen to get back out there.”
The full NSW Women’s Premiership fixture list is expected to be released ahead of the first round of the competition this weekend.
Roosters Round 1 Team List: Isabelle Kelly, Yasmin Meakes, Jayme Fressard, Bobbi Law, Brydie Parker, Claire Reed, Mel Howard, Tayla Predebon, Kylie Hilder, Caitlan Johnston, Jocelyn Kelleher, Alicia Martin, Hannah Southwell; Interchange: Olivia Higgins, Olivia Kernick, Madeline Jones, Keilee Joseph, Tazmyne Luschwitz.