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New-look National Championships turn spotlight on to rising talent

NRLW coaches and talent scouts will be on the search for the game's next female star after confirmation the Harvey Norman National Championships will begin in Redcliffe on May 19.

The NRL confirmed the tournament will shift to the Moreton Bay region at Redcliffe's Moreton Daily Stadium on Tuesday morning after previously being held on the Gold Coast. 

A revamp of the four-day tournament will see a total of 14 teams from across the country competing at the championships after a 12-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The introduction of the under-19s program is among the highlighted changes this season, giving the game's next crop of talent the chance to shine at the representative level. 

Jillaroos coach Brad Donald said the time was right to revamp the championships and offer further opportunities to rising talent.

"This tournament will be a significant step in our national female pathways strategy, and an opportunity for all participants to gain further selection and acknowledgement along our pathways," Donald said.

Jillaroo Julia Robinson with Moreton Bay mayor Peter Flannery and Brad Donald.
Jillaroo Julia Robinson with Moreton Bay mayor Peter Flannery and Brad Donald. ©Colleen Edwards/QRL Media

Eight teams will feature in the under-19s draw with the NSWRL (City and Country) and QRL (Sapphires and Rubys) fielding two sides each.

The remaining four teams are the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

For the opens, several changes have taken place in the format but six teams will remain in the draw.

More notably, no NSW or Queensland sides have been included for the first time since the National Championships began.

 Combined Affiliate States Women and NSW City Women in 2019.
Combined Affiliate States Women and NSW City Women in 2019. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Injuries were a major talking point to come out of previous years with some of the game's elite players exposed to heavy workloads leading into Ampol women's State of Origin by playing four games across four days.

The Australian Defence is the only incumbent side to return to the tournament, while the First Nation Gems, the first-ever Indigenous invitational side, will make their debut at the championships.

After previously representing the Combined Affiliated States, players will be able to represent their own states and territories in 2021 with South Australia, Northern Territory, Victoria and Western Australia fielding their own sides.

Australian Jillaroos representatives Julia Robinson and Tiana Penitani are examples of those to have starred in recent championships to make their way to the top.

While playing for the ADF, Robinson stood out against several of her future Jillaroos teammates at the championships in 2018.

"This gave me an opportunity to get signed by the Brisbane Broncos, where I went on to play in the first year of the NRLW," Robinson said.

"Without this event, I may never have had the opportunity to be seen and go on to play for my state and country."

Meanwhile, Penitani was named player of the tournament to claim the Tahnee Norris medal in 2019 after scoring six tries in three games for NSW City.

Final details around the draw and squads are expected to be released later this week with matches will be live-streamed on NRL.com.

Combined Affiliate States Women take on NSW City Women at the 2019 WNC.
Combined Affiliate States Women take on NSW City Women at the 2019 WNC. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Harvey Norman National Championships

Teams - Opens

  • Australian Defence Force
  • First Nation Gems
  • South Australia
  • Northern Territory
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia

Teams - Under 19s

  • NSW City
  • NSW Country
  • Queensland Rubys 
  • Queensland Sapphires
  • South Australia
  • Northern Territory
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia
Watch the National Championships live on NRL TV

Women’s Origin tickets are on sale via NRL Tickets. Supporters can watch the historic match from just $5 for juniors, $15 for adults and $35 for families.