Warriors coach Brad Donald has had only a handful of training sessions to work with his players but has no qualms about taking on the challenge ahead when the team opens its 2020 NRLW premiership campaign against the Brisbane Broncos on Saturday.
Only five of the team named to face the defending premiers have played for the Warriors at NRLW level before meaning as many as 12 players will be making their debuts for the club.
Most of the new faces have significant experience at international and State of Origin level as well as in the NRLW, most notably Karin Brown, Kirra Dibb, Tazmin Gray, Simone Smith and Shontelle Stowers while rugby league rookies Ellia Green and Evania Pelite won sevens rugby union gold with Australia at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“We’re not here to make up numbers. We said that right from the beginning and that’s one of the things we were able to shine a light on straightaway,” said Donald.
“Over the last two years the team has won enough games to make the grand final. The first year the Roosters made it on one win then last year the Dragons made it on two wins and our club has been exactly the same as that but missed out on for and against.
“We’ve also spoken about the dream of kids when they grow up. If they’re a fan of rugby league, grand final day is something that seems an eternity away. This for us is three really good matches and we’re warming up. We’re not sitting there eating the hot dogs and drinking the beers on the sideline.
“These women are really respectful of the players who were unable to come.
“We had a presentation about what the jersey means to each of the players in the group. We were fortunate to have 10 former staff and players join us on Saturday night to talk about that experience. They’re a big part of the puzzle.
“Half a dozen girls will make their NRLW debuts on Saturday and they definitely wouldn’t have had that opportunity (if more players could have been here from New Zealand) and we’re going to have 12 debutants for the club. So really exciting times for not just the club but for the players.”
Donald was thrilled with the total buy-in from such a diverse group of players coming together to represent the Warriors.
“The joy of taking on this role is that we haven’t had to negotiate on contracts or anything like that,” he said.
“If you’re a player from Queensland you know what you’re in for. You have to do two weeks’ quarantine when you return and you get paid a certain amount. If you’re a player from New Zealand you have to quarantine for four weeks and you get paid a certain amount. And if you’re from New South Wales, the same thing.
“We laid all the cards on the table and there’s not one person who knocked it back. They all wanted to take the opportunity. In fact, there were people we knocked back because everyone was passionate to get involved with us to keep the women’s movement alive and get onboard with what the Warriors’ brand stands for.”
Equally heart-warming has been the response from people and organisations wanting to offer their support.
“We saw some people do tremendous things to help the men’s NRL side and similar things have been happening here inside our little bubble here in Manly,” said Donald.
“Harvey Norman were the first to ring as soon as they knew we were coming into camp. They sent us a couple of lounges, an Xbox and iPads for the girls to turn what’s normally a pretty sterile room into something that’s like a lounge room.
“There are people putting their hand up all the time to get involved with this side. It’s repaying the faith for what these women are doing for the game.”