The Waratahs have started their 2019 title defence with a bang, warding off Hamilton's challenge at Waratah Oval on Saturday evening. Picture: Isaac McIntyre

The Waratahs know they’re going to “have a target on their backs” in 2019, after heading into the expanded Newcastle & Hunter Rugby Union Women’s competition as defending champions.

It’s a place the team “loves to be”, club coach Loni Vikilani said after the Tahs notched a 33-5 win over Hamilton to kick-start their title defence.

Anika Butler scored early for the Waratahs, getting the champions off to a “flying start”, before the Hawks struck back as the first half ticked on.

From there it was all one-way traffic for the home side at Waratah Oval, with Jennifer Mauli, Bobbi Law, and Tia Tauafao all crossing the line for the Tahs to push the score out to the eventual 28-point advantage.

“It’s always important to get a good win first off, because that flying start builds everyone’s confidence as they come back to the game,” co-coach Vikilani said. “We missed out on a warm-up game ahead of the season because of playing numbers and availability, so to get on the park and show what we’ve got for 2019 is great.

Read more recent news

“The team is taking it week-by-week, but we know that every week teams will try to knock us off the top – it’s not a comfortable place to be, and it means we have to get in the grind and work hard to keep our top spot.

“I know most teams will be improving as the league continues, and everyone will want to beat us. I don’t think we’re the All Blacks by any means, but they stay at the top and you see other teams build and improve and use them as a marker. It’s a good thing to have the challenge, both for ourselves and in the league. It makes us better.”

It was a tough battle between the Waratahs and Hamilton to open the NHWRU season, with the home team coming out on top. Picture: Isaac McIntyre

Vikilani also praised NHRU’s decision to expand the women’s competition to six teams, and believes it will improve the entire Hunter region’s talent as the six-team league continues to grow.

“It’s a great choice, the women’s competition building up is fantastic to see, and having as many teams involved as possible creates a strong league, and a strong region,” he said.

“I want to see the whole competition grow, and if we become better then the other teams will have to match that, and we’ll see the entire league grow in talent and skill.”

Also in the opening round of the season, the combined Easts-University outfit began life in the womens competition with a 22-7 win over Maitland, while Merewether Carlton chalked up a massive 82-nil victory over the Mauraders. Katie Denyer scored four for the Greens, while Ella Ingley and Kristyanne Cooper chipped in with two apiece.

STANDINGS: Merewether Carlton, Waratahs, Easts-University (1-0), Maitland, Hamilton, Medowie (0-1)