PNG skipper Albert gets first NRLW start for Dragons

DEBUTANT: PNG Orchids skipper Elsie Albert has been named in the No. 13 jumper for the Dragons. Picture: NRL Imagery
DEBUTANT: PNG Orchids skipper Elsie Albert has been named in the No. 13 jumper for the Dragons. Picture: NRL Imagery

Dragons NRLW coach Daniel Lacey is set to unleash PNG Orchids wrecking ball Elsie Albert, while Jillaroos winger Shakiah Tungai will shift into a playmaking role after being named in the No. 6 jumper.

Lacey's 17 for Saturday's season-opener includes marquee recruits Isabelle Kelly and Steph Hancock, but it's Albert's selection at lock that's sure to excite fans given the highlight reel that accompanied her signing with the Dragons.

The Orchids captain will be the first PNG International to figure in the elite competition in a formidable pack that includes Hancock, co-captain Kezie Apps and Test No. 9 Keeley Davis.

It's also sure to attract attention back in league-mad PNG after she shifted to Brisbane earlier this year in the hope of landing an NRLW contract. It'll be a big occasion but Lacey insists he's not expecting an entire highlight reel first-up from the 24-year-old.

"I'm no different to anyone else that watches the game so I'm pretty impressed with what she can do, that's why we've picked her," Lacey said.

"We'll want her to do all those things, it's what we brought Steph and Else to the club for, some aggression and that go-forward. We're looking forward to it but at this level you've got to be a little bit controlled and play your role as well.

"We'll be looking to unleash the beast but we'll be doing some work this week to tame the beast as well. We've got some big aspirations for her and I'm in awe sometimes about her journey and what she'd done to get here. I'll spend an hour at a time talking about what it's like in PNG, what she wants to do and how much it means to her to play so it's exciting for all of us."

Tungai's selection at five-eighth, partnering Test halfback Maddie Studdon, is another major talking point after making her Test debut on the wing in Wollongong last year, finishing that match with a try and four goals. The shift will come as no surprise to those who've watched the 23-year-old livewire come through the Illawarra ranks, with a move closer to action an inevitability at some stage.

"I've watched Shak play the most of anybody because we picked her up in her first year out at Avondale and watched her go through the November Nines, local footy and NRLW," Lacey said.

"She was new to the game at that stage but she's She's an unbelievable talent who's very versatile so the more she touches the ball the more dangerous she's going to be.

"Most coaches want an organising halfback and a running five-eighth and that's what we've got. Studds who's been in our system a while now. We've got a simplified role for Shak but, at the same time, we've also given her the freedom to just be Shak."

The line-up also includes returning skipper Sam Bremner, with Lacey retaining the the squad that claimed NRL Nines silverware in February. It was a confidence-booster at the time but, six months and global pandemic later, the team-building will prove invaluable given a drastically shortened preparation for game one against the Roosters on Saturday.

"Every team's probably thinking [preparation] is not ideal," Lacey said.

"As much as the Nines were great to win, it's not the same format, it's more about the familiarity with each other and creating that environment where we have those combinations and we don't need to over-coach them."

This story PNG skipper Albert gets first NRLW start for Dragons first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.