Jillaroos legend Steph Hancock is lucky to remember her first encounter with wrecking ball Elsie Albert.
The former Bronco was playing a trial match against the PNG Orchids in Papua New Guinea last year.
Hancock took a hit up – or she tried to.
“I thought she was going to knock me out,” Hancock said.
“I remember not looking at who I was running at, and then suddenly thinking, “oh my God, I’m still alive,” I thought I wasn’t going to get up off the ground … I felt that for the next three days.”
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But that bone-rattling tackle started a strong friendship between Hancock and Albert.
After playing a season together for the Souths Logan Magpies in Queensland’s BHP Premiership, the pair both signed with the Dragons.
“I made her a promise that if she got a contract, I told her I’d go wherever she was going, if they’d allow me to come with her,” Hancock said.
“She desperately wanted to play NRLW. When Dragons offered her a contract she let me know and I thought I better stick to my word.”
Albert was formidable on debut last week, making 109 run metres, 25 tackles, two tackle breaks and one offload.
The former boxer was a clear stand out for St George in their Round 1 loss to the Roosters.
“Her natural ability is just amazing, and she’s just such a genuine, beautiful person off the field,” Albert said.
“Everyone probably thinks she’s been around for a long time but this is only her third season of playing rugby league.”
Hancock – the daughter of former Australian and Maroons legend Rohan Hancock – debuted for the Jillaroos back in 2003.
Choosing to leave her 11-year-old daughter Manaia in Queensland for this year’s NRLW was one of the most difficult decisions she’s made in her career.
“I thought I wasn’t going to do it, but then Manaia said “I do love watching you … I really want you to go,” I spoke to my partner Mon and she was okay with it,”
“But to put that into perspective, Elsie’s been away from her family since February so I’ve got nothing to cry about.
“You’ve got the Warriors girls who have come over too, I’m so grateful that they’ve all sacrificed so much so that the competition can go ahead.”
Saturday, Hancock takes on her former club and reigning premiers the Brisbane Broncos.
The forward believes that when they click, the Dragons can go all the way in 2020.
“I love the vibe here, everyone listens to the coach, everyone’s respectful, we’ve only got a short time to get it together, but everyone’s switched on, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
DESPERATION STAKES FOR WARRIORS AND DRAGONS
– Martin Gabor
The NRLW action continues as the Warriors tackle the Roosters and the Dragons clash with the Broncos at Bankwest Stadium.
WARRIORS v ROOSTERS
They’ve become close mates during their time working with the Jillaroos, but master and apprentice will go head-to-head when the Roosters face the Warriors on Saturday.
Saturday’s clash sees Jillaroos coach Brad Donald take on assistant Jamie Feeney, with both men in their first year as NRLW mentors.
Feeney enjoyed the perfect start last week as his Roosters swept aside the Dragons with an upset 18-4 win in Canberra. Rugby sevens superstar Charlotte Caslick was the hero, but she’ll face a new test in the No. 1 jersey with regular fullback Botille Vette-Welsh (hamstring) likely to miss the rest of the season.
Caslick should relish the extra space at the back, especially if her forwards – led by the hard-hitting Hannah Southwell – continue to dominate upfront.
The Warriors are the feel-good story of the year and were extremely brave in their first-up loss to the Broncos, and they’ll go into this game with plenty of confidence knowing they’ve never lost to the Sydneysiders.
The booming boot of former Rooster Kirra Dibb should help them win the territory battle, but it’s the two competition points that really matter if they want to keep their season alive.
Tip: Roosters by 8
DRAGONS v BRONCOS
The Dragons will be desperate to flip the script when they take on the Broncos in Round 2 of the NRLW on Saturday.
While they may have belted their northern rivals to take out this year’s Nines tournament, the Red V have never beaten Brisbane in the 13-a-side game, including last year’s thumping 30-6 defeat on grand final day.
Redemption may be a motivating factor this weekend, but the reality is they need to look at their own game if they want to keep their top two chances alive.
The Dragons were highly-fancied heading into the new season but were underwhelming against the Roosters in the opening round. Their electric backline was well-contained, while their defence leaked a concerning nine line-breaks.
They can’t afford to make the same mistakes against a Broncos team that can strike at the drop of a hat. Tamika Upton scored a hat-trick last week on the back of Brisbane’s ferocious forward pack, while Ali Brigginshaw just pulls the strings in the halves and can conjure something out of nothing.
Losing the first game of the season is nothing new to the Dragons, but another defeat this week would spell the end of their 2020 campaign should the Roosters beat the Warriors.
In good news for St George Illawarra, Jess Sergis and Maddie Studdon look set to overcome ankle injuries while Kezie Apps has also been named after last week’s head knock.
Tip: Broncos by 10