The NSW Women’s Premiership returns this weekend, and CRL Newcastle – formerly known as North Newcastle – are looking to fire on all cylinders after off-season changes.

Country Rugby League has assumed management of the state team for the upcoming year, which promises to boost “resources, finances and player pathways”, as well as giving the new-look squad the means to draw on the Central Hunter Combined Women’s Competition.

It’s a very welcome addition to the growth of the women’s game in Newcastle and the Hunter, says club head coach Mick Young, who has been an integral part of the expansion of the original North Newcastle side.

The main benefit for the women in the squad, Young says, is that the team now acts like a representative squad, and “shows the pathways laid out before these fantastic players”.

“We are grateful that Country Rugby League has come on-board as part of the team, we were a bit nomadic in the past few years just trying to give girls a chance to play, so it’s great to have that stability,” Young said of the new partnership.

Young, and the whole playing squad, are looking forward to getting out on the paddock after three months of preseason to represent everywhere from the northern reaches of New South Wales to the Central Coast.

“We’re all looking forward to it, we have a lot of developing players in the team alongside five that have played for the Jillaroos,” the head coach said.

“We’ve been trying to get the girls to work on attack and defence, but we’re not really fussed about the outcome at the moment. If we do what we did at training it will mean we are competitive – we need to get in good stead for the rest of the year.”

Although the name of their opponents this weekend are the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the squad is predominantly the Redfern All-Blacks side that downed North Newcastle in the 2017 grand final, and Young admitted there’s a few thoughts of revenge in the squad.

“They beat us in the grand final, but it’s not really a crucial match at the moment because you don’t make the grand final in March,” Young said.

“[That said], we’re all competitive, and it would be great to get one over them straight up. Over that however, we’re a rep squad and we’re focus on that culture. Those experienced players carry that through and that’s the main thing for us this season.

“Those that were in the final last year of course want to grab the winner, but they’re just looking forward to getting back out there and playing footy.”

CRL Operations Manager Bert Lowrie welcomed the Newcastle-CRL partnership, and stated the new combined organisation would be “a win” for both the CRL Newcastle side and the Central Hunter Combined Competition.

“This new partnership ensures the CRL Newcastle team is at the top of the female rugby league pathway in the region and provides an opportunity  for those wanting to progress,” Lowrie said.

“Having a strong competition feeding into the CRL Newcastle side will create competition for positions and add considerable depth to the premier side which they haven’t had before.

“The [squad] will boast five current Jillaroos in their squad this year, so the incentive for players to strive for the elite team and put their case forward for higher honours is clear.”

The opening round of the NSW Women’s Premiership season will see Newcastle take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Redfern Oval at 1.30pm on March 24.

Round 1 Team-list: 1 Amy Broadhead, 2 Cassie Ormsby, 3 Jayme Fressard, 4 Isabelle Kelly, 5 Alicia Martin, 6 Melanie Howard, 7 Caitlin Moran, 8 Bec Young, 9 Kylie Hilder, 10 Skye Lovett, 11 Holli Wheeler, 12 Emma Young, 13 Jerry Burgmann, 14 Donna Sutton, 15 Margaret Watson, 16 Melanie Sutton, 17 Naomi Medlin, 18 Hannah Southwell.