Roche signs record five-year deal as NRLW lures internationals, cross-code stars

Published by Brad Walter, IntRL
05 Jun 2023

England five-eighth Georgia Roche has signed a world record five-year NRLW deal with the Newcastle Knights.

The contract terms of every player signed to the 10 NRLW clubs was publicly released ahead of the upcoming season, with Roche and star fullback Tamika Upton committed to Newcastle until at least 2027.

The deals are the longest signed by a female player and give an insight into why the Knights didn't want Roche to play for Leeds Rhinos in the Women's Super League before her arrival in Australia.

At just 22-years-of-age, the five-year deal represents a huge commitment by both Roche and her NRLW club.

Roche has signed a record five-year deal (Getty Images)

Newcastle's Southwell sisters, Hannah and Jesse, also have five-year deals but both include options after three seasons, as does Jillaroos prop Millie Boyle in her contract with Sydney Roosters.

England second-rower Hollie-Mae Dodd has signed with the Canberra Raiders for two years, while outside back Francesca Goldthorp has an option to remain with North Queensland Cowboys for the 2024 season.

The English trio are among dozens of international stars and recruits from rugby union or other sports to join the NRLW after the competition, which kicks off on July 22, was expanded from six to 10 teams this season.

Dodd has signed with the Raiders for two seasons (Getty Images)

Others include Kiwi Ferns World Cup sensation Mele Hufanga, Cook Islands fullback Mackenzie Wiki (Raiders) - the daughter of former New Zealand captain Ruben Wiki - and Canada Ravens outside back Ferris Sandboe (St George Illawarra Dragons). 

Young Matildas captain Sheridan Gallagher (Knights), who led Australia in last year's FIFA Women's Under 20s World Cup in Costa Rica, is among a host of cross-code recruits, including Australian bobsled representative Ashleigh Werner (Brisbane Broncos).

Niall Williams, the sister of dual code superstar Sonny Bill Williams, has signed with Gold Coast Titans, while Black Ferns rugby sevens team-mate Tyla Nathan-Wong will join St George Illawarra Dragons.

The duo's decision to switch codes and move from New Zealand to play in the NRLW, along with Australian Wallaroos forward Grace Kemp (Raiders), are viewed as massive coups for the competition.

North Queensland Cowboys have signed Papua New Guinea Orchids World Cup quartet Essay Banu, Shellie Long, Jessikah Reeves and Sera Koroi, along with Fijian duo Vitalina Naikore and Merewalesi Rokouono.

A lightning quick winger, Naikore has agreed to a three-year deal after two stellar seasons with the Fijiana Drua Super-W team, who won back-to-back Super-W premierships in 2022 and 2023.

The Fijian international is a prolific try-scorer and sharpshooter in front of goal.

Rokouono  is a teammate of Naikore at the Drua and international level with Fiji.

A talented playmaker with a polished passing game and booming boot, Rokouono has signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys and is expected to push for a Round 1 starting halfback spot, but can also play centre and fullback.