Commonwealth Games gold medallist Southwell among NSW Origin debutants

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Sky Blues coach Kylie Hilder has named four debutants for next week’s Women’s State of Origin series opener, including Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jesse Southwell.

Eighteen-year-old Southwell, who won gold with Australia’s rugby sevens team at the 2022 Games in Birmingham, is set to start at five-eighth for NSW, while Jaime Chapman, Taliah Fuimaono and Brooke Anderson have also made Hilder’s 17 for the first time.

The Knights’ Jesse Southwell is set to make her Origin debut next week at CommBank Stadium.Credit: Getty

“I watched Jesse during the NRLW when she came onto the scene last year, and even before that I had watched Jesse play in the junior ranks when she was playing in Newcastle,” Hilder said.

“From the age of about 15 I knew she was going to be a superstar. She was playing way above her age. She’s such a mature player.”

Southwell will be paired with the Eels’ Rachael Pearson, who made her Origin debut last year, in the halves at CommBank Stadium next week.

Pearson, who is 10 years older than Southwell, is the perfect mentor for the young gun according to Hilder.

NSW Origin halfback Rachael Person will pair with debutant Jesse Southwell in the halves.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“They just complement each other, and that’s the reason I’ve got them both in that position,” Hilder said.

“I want Jesse to play the way Jesse plays. I don’t want to bring her in and change her. I want her to have that X-factor and be able to do what she does best. But we still need that half that, at times, we need someone to take control and guide the ship, that’s Rachael’s job.”

After Caitlan Johnston and Southwell’s sister Hannah were ruled out with injuries, Hilder handed jerseys to Anderson, Fuimaono and Chapman.

Fuimaono would have earned her debut a year earlier if not for a collarbone injury ahead of last year’s Origin contest, according to Hilder.

“I just love the versatility that she has, she’s the type of person that you can put on the field and play anywhere and do the job, and that’s why she’s coming in as that 14,” Hilder said of Fuimaono.

Experienced player Yasmin Clydsdale played on the wing last year but will line up in the second row for game one, making room for debutant Chapman out wide.

“She [Chapman] was pretty close to making it last year, but she’s matured so much as a player, I watched her during the World Cup where she was so good,” Hilder said. “For me, it was a no-brainer.”

This year’s Women’s Origin series will, for the first time, be played over two games instead of one, a decision which divided opinion due to the likelihood the series could end in a draw. If that’s the case, Hilder’s Blues would retain the Origin crown as the reigning champions from 2022.

“We’re not even thinking about Townsville,” said Hilder, who emphasised the importance of a win in game one.

“We’ve got to get through game one, that’s our priority to start with. We’ve got a game, basically in eight days, and that’s what we will focus on when we get into camp. And once that game’s over, then we will reset and think about Townsville.”

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