A new season is underway. Teams have left and teams have arrived. New players have joined the league and others have moved on. Coming off the busiest off-season in the history of the league, the NRL has more questions in the early season than in any other year in the league’s history. As the season gets underway we are going to look at the top five.
Question One – Can the WAM!’s new players join the existing core?
Upon the demise of the Edmonton Edge, the WAM! have added several outstanding players. Canada’s leading scorer at the 2007 World Championship, Ashley Peters; solid goalkeeper Heather Konkin; and young gun Jennifer Hartley all joined the WAM! from the Edge. Add to those additions, Nicole Lark formerly of the BC Reign, Finnish national teamer Jessica Kantee, and the return of Barb Bautista from a one-year stint with the RATH and you have a lot of talent but also a lot of sorting out to do. Veteran team leaders Keely Brown, Megan Todd, Tarin Scobie, Kari Sadoway and Jennifer Krochak along with Head Coach Phyllis Sadoway will have their hands full in making a real team out of this newly formed collection of outstanding players. Perhaps the addition of newly inducted Hall of Famer Cindy Annala as assistant coach will help things fall into place.
Question Two – Can the Montreal Mission beat Cambridge?
Last season the Mission lost one game all year against teams that were not Cambridge. They lost five games (including the national championship game) to the Turbos. Looking at a potent roster with four national teamers from Canada (and one from Sweden) you would think that they can go toe-to-toe with the Turbos. In fact, they do go toe-to-toe losing in agonizingly close games, such as the 2-1 heartbreaker in the national championship final. However, until now, Montreal has not been able to get over the hump and get victory over Cambridge. Is this the year that the Mission break through? Of course, Cambridge will have something to say about that.
Question Three – Can expansion teams make some noise?
The league added two new teams in the off-season. The Whitby Wild and the Gatineau Fusion will be making their respective debuts. Gatineau has benefited from a strong expansion draft, adding a veteran presence to complement some young newcomers. Whitby has gone primarily with youth, building up the team over the next couple of years. Which strategy will pay off? Can one or both of these teams compete for one of the six berths for the Eastern Conference? With two very different approaches, these teams will be an interesting contrast this season.
Question Four – How does this season affect the Team Canada roster?
The try out process for Team Canada will start in the summer of 2010. This means that head coach Lyndsay Wheelans and her staff will be keeping a watchful eye to see who is positioning themselves to join Team Canada in Finland in 2010. While scouting will take place across the league, Wheelans will have the opportunity to keep a pretty close eye on the Capital Division, having joined the bench as head coach of the Ottawa Ice.
Question Five – What newcomer will make the biggest impact?
The 2007 Canada Winter Games are starting to be felt in the NRL. Jessica Pepper joins the league with BLL, after a dominating performance as a Belle and with Team Quebec at the Whitehorse 07 Games. Deanna DaDalt joins the expansion Whitby Wild after her incomparable Belle career, and her leadership position with the gold medal winning Team Ontario at the Games.
Newcomers from Canada are being joined this year with a couple of key additions from Finland. Jessica Kantee brings her World Championship gold medal experience to the Edmonton WAM!, while world champion Salla Kyhala joins the Saskatoon Wild.
Time will tell which of these newcomers (or others) will make their mark on the NRL this season.