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By Brad Walter (NRL Senior Reporter) via

Dragons prop Elsie Albert and former Eels hooker Therese Aiton are among 16 Australian-based players in an extended PNG Orchids squad chosen ahead of the end-of-season World Cup in England.

Aiton was named in a 34-player train-on squad and will play in a selection trial in Port Moresby next month, while Albert has been granted an exemption due to her NRLW commitments with St George Illawarra.

Albert is expected to be one of the first players picked by Orchids coach Ben Jeffries for the World Cup after her starring role in helping the Dragons to the 2021 NRLW grand final, played earlier this year.

The 26-year-old, who became the first home-grown PNG player to play in the NRLW when she joined the Dragons in 2020, captained the Orchids in their historic Test defeat of England in 2019.

North Queensland’s Sareka Mooka, Wynnum’s La-Toniya Norris (Wynnum) and Shae-Yvonne De La Cruz from Brisbane Souths have also been exempted from the trial, along with Leeds Rhinos winger Tara Moxon.

Aiton played for Parramatta in the 2021 NRLW competition but is unsigned for the upcoming season. She played for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the recently completed NSW Women’s Premiership.

The train-on squad also includes former PNG Rugby Sevens international Anika Butler, who played for the Newcastle Knights in the NSW Women’s Premiership.

There is a strong Queensland-based contingent, including Wynnum’s Angelena Watego and Essay Banu, Brisbane Tigers trio Emily Veivers, Shellie Long and Jessica Carey, and Gemma Schnaubelt, Sera Koroiemma and Jessikah Reeves from Brisbane Souths.

Shellie Long taking a hit-up. BMD Premiership Tigers v Gold Stars Round 7. Photo by Zacs Lense

Moxon is the only player who is not based in Australia or Papua New Guinea after moving to England at the age of 12 from East New Britain with her PNG mother and English father.

She played for the England Knights in 2019 and was a member of the Leeds team which lost last year’s Women’s Super League grand final to St Helens.

Jeffries said the squad featured the top performers from the recent PNG Women’s Tri-Series in Port Moresby and overseas-based players who have been monitored by coaching staff throughout 2022.

“I have been really impressed by the standard of talent we have available to us both in PNG and Australia,” Jeffries said.

“Although I was unable to attend the PNG Women’s Tri-Series due to unforeseen circumstances, I watched videos of all the matches and addressed the players several times during their camp.

“I am really excited to see our PNG and Australian-based talent come together in August’s trial match and begin the World Cup journey.”

The Orchids open their World Cup campaign against Canada on November 1 at Headingley before meeting Brazil and England in their other pool matches.

PNG Orchids chair Okaro Yogi said: “I am excited with the selection because it is a good mix of debutants and returning Orchids players who came from the four confederates across PNG and which includes our overseas based players”.

PNGRFL CEO Stanley Hondina added: “I would like to extend our appreciation to the head coach and his coaching team for the efforts put in to get to this point. With the challenge of COVID and others, you managed to put together a team that’s appreciated.

“The concept that was put in place has been fair and every PNG girl has been given an opportunity to be selected, and with this trial, which includes the overseas girls, assists us not only to get a balanced team but also a quality one.”

The 34-player train-on squad is:

Angelena Watego (Wynnum Seagulls)
Anika Butler (Newcastle Knights)
Belinda Gwasamun (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Bertshiba Awoi (PNG Southern Confederate)
Carol Humeu (PNG Southern Confederate)
Delailah Ahose (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Elizabeth Kapa (PNG Southern Confederate)
Emily Veivers (Brisbane Tigers)
Essay Banu (Wynnum Seagulls)
Gemma Schnaubelt (Souths Magpies)
Gloria Kaupa (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Janet John (PNG Southern Confederate)
Janet Michael (PNG Southern Confederate)
Jessica Carey (Brisbane Tigers)
Jessikah Reeves (Souths Magpies)
Joanne Lagona (PNG Southern Confederate)
Layne Nona-Busch (Ellenbrook Rabbitohs, WA)
Leilah Kerowa (PNG Southern Confederate)
Lydia Luke (PNG Northern Confederate)
Lila Malabag (PNG Southern Confederate)
Lisa-Marie Alu (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Lyiannah Alleen (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Martha Molowia (PNG Southern Confederate)
Meli Joe (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Michelle John Ikupu (PNG Northern Confederate)
Regila Wilfred (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Roswita Kapo (PNG Southern Confederate)
Sera Koroi (Souths Magpies)
Shellie Long (Brisbane Tigers)
Talitha Kunjil (PNG Highlands Confederate)
Therese Aiton (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Ua Ravu (Riverina Bulls)
Veronica Waula (PNG Southern Confederate)

The following five players are unable to attend the trial match in August due to personal reasons but remain in contention to make the final PNG Orchids squad:

Elsie Albert (St George Illawarra Dragons)
La-Toniya Norris (Wynnum Seagulls)
Sareka Mooka (North Queensland Gold Stars)
Shae-Yvonne De La Cruz (Souths Magpies)
Tara Moxon (Leeds Rhinos)