The stage is set and the stakes are high for North Newcastle’s Bec Young, Caitlin Moran and Isabelle Kelly.
The trio will line up for NSW as they defend their women’s State of Origin title against Queensland in Wollongong on July 23.
But there is plenty more on the line.
The match will be the last chance for players to state their cases for World Cup selection.
It is also being televised live for the first time, giving them one shot at showcasing women’s rugby league as a product.
“There are many pressures going into the game and, for it to be live on TV, you do have to be the best because you want to put the best product out there,” Young said.
“If we go out there and don’t play good footy, it’s not going to get bums on seats and it’s not going to get participation levels up.
“People want to see great footy, they want to see quality and the skill level and I believe we’ve got that.
“As a product the women’s rugby league game is there and we’re going to hopefully turn some heads after people have watched that game.”
At 35, Bec Young is the oldest player in the NSW squad.
She has seen many changes in the past seven years as a NSW player. One of those came last week when NSW Rugby League announced the landmark decision to offer paid contracts for Blues players.
Young, who juggles a full-time sporting commitment with motherhood and running a family business, did not think she would see that happen in her time.
“I feel it’s a massive reward for the older players who have paved the way and laid that foundation to where we are now, where we’ve all moved to that elite pathway level and we’re training like elite athletes,” Young said.
“Now it feels like we’re actually getting reward for that, for the sacrifices that we’re making – family time and even work – because it’s extremely hard.”
Young said the move shows how far the women’s game has progressed in recent years and signals a shift towards an eventual professional set-up.
“My first year [for NSW] was in 2011 and we didn’t have to pay for our flights; that was something exciting,” Young said.
“Seven years later, we’ve had eight training camps where food is supplied. Back in 2011 you had to pack your own lunch when you went to a training camp.
“You’ve got ice baths and a recovery program ... flights, accommodation. We stayed at the sport and rec camp in 2011 in double bunks and we’ve now moved on to the Novotel in queen beds.
“I feel that those little changes each year are getting bigger and bigger and I can definitely see very close in the future an elite program for women to play rugby league.”
Last year NSW broke Queensland’s 16-year stranglehold to win the interstate battle for the first time. There is “no way” the Blues intend to give back the trophy.
“It felt like relief and it felt like everything we’re doing is going in the right direction,” Young said. “We know that we can’t just rest on one win, you can’t just rest on your laurels and say, we’ve won it once. Now we’ve won it, this is way more important to defend it.”
Moran was on debut for her state when the Blues beat the Maroons 8-4 on the Gold Coast.
“Obviously representing Australia is a massive achievement and I’m so humble about and I love it but, when you go out and play Origin, it’s just a whole new feeling, the passion behind it,” Moran said.
“When we won, I just cannot describe the feeling.”
It was part of a breakthrough year for the 21-year-old back, who also made the Jillaroos squad for the first time.
The match will be televised live on FoxLeague from 11.30am on July 23.