NRLW 2021: Coach of the year Jamie Soward out to inspire his daughters and his Dragons

Jamie Soward, with a prestigious NRLW award and a significant appointment after his first year at the Dragons, knows Sunday’s season decider still remains his ultimate challenge.

Newly crowned NRLW coach of the year Jamie Soward was in Wayne Bennett’s neighbourhood on Friday to launch the grand final weekend in Redcliffe, but admitted he had no plans to hit up the super coach ahead of the premiership decider.

Soward has steered the Dragons from 2020 NRLW wooden spooners to one win away from claiming the 2021 premiership, in what has been his first year as head coach of the Red V.

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Such has been his influence on the group, the NRL premiership winner has this week been appointed as the New South Wales women’s Origin assistant coach and also the 2021 Dally M coach of the year.

Dragons coach Jamie Soward and captain Kezie Apps discuss Sunday’s NRLW grand final. Picture: Richard Walker
Dragons coach Jamie Soward and captain Kezie Apps discuss Sunday’s NRLW grand final. Picture: Richard Walker

It’s a remarkable rise for the 37-year-old, so much so he plans to continue to coach his own way instead of reaching out to Bennett for advice.

“I’m just doing it my way,” Soward said.

“It’s important to still be yourself or else the world would be a boring place.

“I told the girls that, you’re allowed to be yourself and embraced for that.

“I saw Wayne last night and it was good to catch up with him but I’ll just enjoy the week.”

Soward admitted his role as a mentor for the Dragons playing group was made even more important as he sought to help grow women’s rugby league.

Roosters’ Corban Baxter and Dragons opposite Kezie Apps with the NRLW trophy. Picture: Richard Walker
Roosters’ Corban Baxter and Dragons opposite Kezie Apps with the NRLW trophy. Picture: Richard Walker

“I love the fact that I’m back at the Dragons,” he said.

“I’ve got two young daughters who I’m trying to be an exceptional role model for and I want to show them the way into the professional world of being a woman.

“Being associated with Kez (Apps) and everything she’s done for the squad, I feel like we’re in a really good place to help each other out.

“I have extra responsibilities as a coach but I have extra responsibilities to Kez and the girls to get them ready to make sure they enjoy this week.”

Roosters’ NRLW success centres on brilliant duo

Sydney Roosters’ dynamic duo Isabelle Kelly and Jessica Sergis have achieved almost everything in the game, and on Sunday, they have the chance to add an NRLW premiership.

Between them, the star centres have a Dally M medal (Sergis in 2019) and Origin’s Nellie Doherty Medal (Kelly in 2018) but neither have been able to hold an NRLW trophy aloft.

As they prepare to face their former club, St George Illawarra in Sunday’s blockbuster NRLW premiership decider, the star centres have opened up on their season so far.

The dynamic duo are sure to pose big problems for the Dragons on Sunday.
The dynamic duo are sure to pose big problems for the Dragons on Sunday.

Kelly needs just 52 more run metres to become the first player in NRLW history to clock up 2000 metres, as she continues to assert herself as one of the most dominant centres in the game.

Her statistics speak for themselves – averaging 146 run metres a game this season, 15 tackle busts in her past two games and three tries so far this year.

The 25-year-old NSW representative described it as a “whirlwind” delayed 2021 season but was relishing the pressure that came with playing in the biggest game of the season on Sunday.

“I love pressure and that’s what motivates me,” Kelly said.

“I’m really excited for the grand final.

“(An NRLW title) is one thing I don’t have in my little trophy cabinet so I’m really hungry for it.

“We’re definitely the underdogs when we come up against the Dragons.

The Roosters pulled of an upset for the ages against the Broncos last weekend.
The Roosters pulled of an upset for the ages against the Broncos last weekend.

“They’ve had an amazing season and you can’t take that away from them, but it does add fuel to the fire being the underdog.

“We’re excited and really, really pumped.”

Meanwhile, Sergis is out to terrorise her former club, the Dragons, where she spent the past three seasons.

The 24-year-old has found some late season form after being sidelined in round four with an ankle injury, making 223 run metres and 10 tackle busts from her last two games.

Despite her form, she said the Dragons also posed plenty of strike power right across the field.

“They have got some big players in that team that are definitely getting them forward like Elsie Albert,” Sergis told Fox League on Wednesday night.

“Then they’ve got Rachael Pearson in the halves and then Emma Tonegato at fullback is just next level. She is a star player.”

The Broncos have trouble stopping Isabelle Kelly.
The Broncos have trouble stopping Isabelle Kelly.

Kelly admitted it will require a combined team effort to shut down the Dragons on Sunday afternoon.

“If Jess and I just do our job, we can really stick it to the Dragons,” Kelly said.

“Last week showcased how well we can play as a team.

“That’s what really suits us, when every steps up and does their role well.”

Historic finish in NRLW Dally M cliffhanger

Barnstorming Bronco Millie Boyle and Dragons rookie Emma Tonegato have been crowned joint Dally M Female Players of the Year in the first dual winner in NRLW history.

The pair couldn’t be split, both polling eight points at the end of the regular season, following standout seasons from each player.

Boyle has been a crucial member of the Broncos for the past two years of their three-year NRLW dynasty.

Earlier this year, she broke the record for most run metres by a forward in NRLW history, barnstorming her way through 223 metres.

Emma Tonegato and Millie Boyle after being announced as joint winners of the Dally M Medal female player of the year. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Emma Tonegato and Millie Boyle after being announced as joint winners of the Dally M Medal female player of the year. Picture: Steve Pohlner

Such was her fast-paced start to the season, she was equal first after just two rounds alongside Parramatta’s Simaima Taufa, polling five points.

Taufa was outright leader after four rounds, polling seven points, before Boyle and Tonegato both polled three points in the final round of the regular season.

Olympic gold medallist Tonegato capped off a spectacular debut NRLW season by also claiming the joint 2021 Dally M Female Player of the Year award.

The Dragons fullback was one of the standouts of the 2021 season, leading the competition in run metres (906m), linebreak assists (8) and equal most try assists.

“Definitely was not expecting that,” Boyle said after accepting the award.

Boyle and Tonegato celebrate as the first joint winners of the award. Picture: Getty Images
Boyle and Tonegato celebrate as the first joint winners of the award. Picture: Getty Images

Some of the game’s biggest stars gathered at Brisbane’s Howard Smith Wharves on Thursday night for the first ever standalone women’s awards evening.

The likes of Brisbane’s Ali Brigginshaw, Dragons skipper Kezie Apps and Parramatta’s Maddie Studdon were in attendance, while Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett was also spotted at the ceremony.

The 2020 Dally M Female Player of the Year Ali Brigginshaw described the standalone women’s awards evening as a significant occasion.

“It’s a momentous occasion to have an all-female Dally M,” Brigginshaw said.

“I’m stoked to see all the girls here and it’s a great celebration of the talent in our game.”

Gold Coast youngster Shaniah Power took out the Try of the Year award, while Dragons fullback Emma Tonegato took out the Tackle of the Year for her shot on Roosters centre Jessica Sergis.

Bennett presented the Coach of the Year award to Dragons mentor and rookie NRLW coach Jamie Soward.

Gold Coast skipper Brittany Breayley-Nati took out this year’s Captain of the Year award.

Boyle saviours her big win at the The Rivershed, Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Boyle saviours her big win at the The Rivershed, Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane. Picture: Steve Pohlner

2021 NRLW AWARDS RECIPIENTS

TRY OF THE YEAR

Shaniah Power – Gold Coast Titans – Round 4

TACKLE OF THE YEAR

Emma Tonegato – St George Illawarra Dragons – Round 5

CAPTAIN OF THE YEAR

Brittany Breayley-Nati – Gold Coast Titans

COACH OF THE YEAR

Jamie Soward – St George Illawarra Dragons

FEMALE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

Millie Boyle – Brisbane Broncos

Emma Tonegato – St George Illawarra Dragons

Six of the best: The breakout stars of NRLW

Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson admits the delayed 2021 season has been a whirlwind experience in what has been a breakout year for the grand final-bound playmaker.

Hailing from the small town of Hay in southwest NSW, Pearson has become one of the standout stars of the 2021 competition in what is her debut NRLW season.

Her rookie year has been an incredible feat considering she is the second leading points-scorer and sits only behind Brisbane’s Lauren Brown in most goals kicked this season.

Pearson has climbed the ranks in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership with the Helensburgh Tigers, playing alongside Kezie Apps and Jessica Sergis in the 2021 season.

Now, the 28-year-old is preparing to play in Sunday’s grand final in Redcliffe as she continues her meteoric rise in the NRLW.

Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson has impressed in her debut season in NRLW. Picture: Simon Bullard
Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson has impressed in her debut season in NRLW. Picture: Simon Bullard

“I don’t know when it will sink in,” Pearson said. “Probably when we run out (on Sunday) and the whistle blows I suppose.

“I’m trying to treat it as just another game and not play the game in my head before we get to it. I want to soak up this week because it is exciting.”

Pearson packed up her bags three years ago and travelled the 700km from Hay to Wollongong to pursue an NRLW contract – and now that sacrifice has paid dividends having secured the Dragons No. 7 jersey.

She has scored a try, set up another and has a 96 per cent tackle efficiency rate across her five games so far this year.

Her kicking game has also proved to be a gamebreaking asset, scoring all 10 points (one try, three goals) in the Dragons 10-0 win over the Eels in Round 2.

She said making it through to this year’s NRLW grand final was a massive achievement from the club and her teammates.

“We weren’t expecting earlier on in the year to be in the grand final, but it’s good to prove people wrong,” she said. “We deserve to be there.”

Pearson is no stranger to travelling for footy, and nor is her family, and said a strong contingent of supporters will be heading to Redcliffe on Sunday to cheer her on.

Rachael Pearson has been a key player in the Dragons’ run to the NRLW grand final. Picture: NRL Imagery
Rachael Pearson has been a key player in the Dragons’ run to the NRLW grand final. Picture: NRL Imagery

“I’ll have a bit of a fanbase and family come up for the game,” she said.

“They were all looking at tickets as soon as the whistle blew last Sunday.

“They’re just working out where they will fly from et cetera because it’ll be pretty pricey but they’re willing to pay to come up to Redcliffe and watch.

“It means a lot to have them there.

“In Round 1 they showed a sign (in the crowd) that said ‘Rat No. 7, All The Way From Hay’ and it’s been sitting at home until the grand final, so it will make another appearance in the crowd.”

FIVE OTHER BREAKOUT STARS OF THE 2021 NRLW SEASON

KEILEE JOSEPH (Roosters)

The supersub for the Roosters has proved to be the difference on numerous occasions this year, scoring two tries and averaging 102 run metres off the bench. “She’s been on the radar for a long time, who just has a really good work ethic,” Jillaroos coach Brad Donald said. “She always works hard in the gym and she’s worked hard on her fitness and you can see that on the field.”

EMMA TONEGATO (Dragons)

It’s hard to go past the incredible form of the Dragons No. 1 this season. The former Olympic Rugby 7’s star has scored four tries in six games and averages 161m a game in her debut NRLW season. “She has complemented the Dragons so well,” Donald said. “She has shown what level these players can go to as a full-time athlete.”

Emma Tonegato has been a star for the Dragons this season. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Emma Tonegato has been a star for the Dragons this season. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

HAGIGA MOSBY (Broncos)

The 21-year-old rocketed onto the NRLW scene in her rookie season with four tries in her four games on Brisbane’s left wing. A tough-as-nails outside back, Mosby has made six tackle breaks and six line breaks this season. “She would have to be in consideration for Tahnee Norris’ Queensland Maroons side,” Donald said.

DESTINY BRILL (Titans)
Fans caught a glimpse of Brill’s talent in last year’s State of Origin but the 18-year-old backed it up with a superb debut NRLW season. She leads the competition for tackle breaks, with 35 which is all the more impressive considering she stands at just 178cm tall. “She plays tough,” Donald said. “It’s almost like she resents being tackled and she has this strength that you don’t normally see in players until they’re in their mid-20s.”

Destiny Brill was a powerhouse for the Titans in their debut season. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Destiny Brill was a powerhouse for the Titans in their debut season. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

EMMA MANZELMANN (Knights)

Another Queensland youngster coming through the ranks put in an impressive effort with the Newcastle Knights this season. At 166cm tall, Manzelmann starred off the bench for most of the season and was just as strong in defence, missing just three tackles all year.

Originally published as NRLW 2021: Coach of the year Jamie Soward out to inspire his daughters and his Dragons

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