AFTER a false start, due to round one's washout, Daniel Lacey's Illawarra Steelers will start their title defence against the Wests Tigers this Saturday.
Lacey, who has 10 girls returning from last year's historic premiership side, is excited to finally start the season after a disjointed pre-season.
"Our build-up to the season wasn't as good as we had hoped," Lacey, who will be absent from the sidelines this Saturday due to his commitments with the Dragons at the NRL Nines, said.
"We had two really good hit-outs before Christmas against St George and Wests Tigers - we took a lot from those matches and I didn't make any cuts to the squad, as I had more trials lined up.
"But our one against Newcastle was washed out, which was disheartening before we went down in a tight contest to the Roosters - who should be right up there this season.
"Then to have round one cancelled, it's been hard to continue to build momentum but we've done our best to adapt to the hand we've been played - the conditions have never stopped us from working hard."
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On top of this, Lacey knows his team will have a target on their backs this season, as everyone always wants to defeat the premiers.
"All the girls know the pressure and expectations that come with being the premiers and I'm sure the girls will show that each week - we've gone from being the hunter to the hunted," he said.
"It will be needed in what appears to be a vastly stronger competition.
"Last year, there was a distinct top four but now there are at least six teams in the mix.
"Added into that is the fact we have to adjust to moving to 13-a-side (from 11-a-side) to coincide with the international rules.
"All these facets bode well for the best Tarsha Gale season, across the board, to date."
Teagan Berry and Keele Browne are two of the returning players that have taken their games to the next level during the off-season.
"Teagan has made the shift from wing to fullback, as she has really improved her ball-playing ability," he said.
"A lot of that comes down to her work with the Dragons NRL Nines squad as the development player - she improves every time she steps on the field.
"While Keele has shifted to the wing because her strong kick returns will be a real asset to our side this season."
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Other names to keep an eye on include Tiana Graham, Rhiannon Tungai and Salma Nour - with the latter progressing from the club's Lisa Fiaola program, as well as being a part of the NSW under 16s academy in 2019.
It's because of this that Lacey is confident his team will be there when the whips are cracking come to the end of the season.
"Everyone is on the same page, with the goal being finals," Lacey said.
"Ideally, we'd finish high enough to secure a double chance, because it showed last season how important that can be (with the Steelers losing in week one of the finals before going on to win the title).
"The main thing is all the girls give 100 per cent effort at all time - I know we won't have 100 per cent cohesion at the start but it's all about building towards our common goal.
"And that all starts on Saturday against Wests."
The game at Leichhardt Oval, kicking off at 1.30pm will see Stingrays' Teagan Berry, Madi Singleton, Teagan Williams, Riley Scott, Alex Wallace and Rhiannon Tungai and Bomaderry's Jordyn Preston line-up in the scarlet and white.
Saturday will also mark the first game of Ben Linde's title defence with his SG Ball squad, when they battle the North Sydney Bears at Macquarie University Sports Field, from 12.30pm.
Headlining Linde's squad for the round two under 18s fixture will be a host of Group Seven products, including Albion Park-Oak Flats' Cooper Tunbridge and Josh Coric, Warilla-Lake South's Tyrone Roberts, Jamberoo's Tyson Duff, Stingrays' Trey Barlow, Milton-Ulladulla's Riley Wooden and Kiama's William Webb - with Berry-Shoalhaven Heads' Jayden Brody on the extended bench.
While Jono Dallas under 16s Harold Matthews side will also take on the Bears, kicking-off at 11am Saturday.
Dallas' side will be led by Gerringong's Ashton Ward, Hamish Stewart, Jack Quine, Dylan Egan, Taj Ford and Kane Graham, Stingrays' Noah Guyatt, Shellharbour's James Walsh and Milton-Ulladulla's Sam Colgate - with Gerringong's Bailey Sassall in the reserves.