Wallaroos skipper Grace Hamilton, naturally, headlines the NSW Waratahs' preliminary squad for the 2020 Buildcorp Super W season but there's a real chance she could be running off resolute Orange Emus halfback Em McDonald next year.
McDonald, who made her Super W debut with the ACT Brumbies last year, was included alongside Panuara's Hamilton in new head coach Campbell Aitken's 47-strong pre-season squad, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon.
Earning a spot in the initial Waratahs' squad was a goal of McDonald's and it comes after she impressed in a big way for NSW Country in this year's Chikarovski Cup, particularly in the Corellas' second-round victory over Sydney Gold.
That came after her efforts in Central West's pre-season tour of New Zealand, the Blue Bulls' Country Championship triumph and Emus' run to the Westfund Ferguson Cup grand final, all of which combined to help her win NSW Country's back-of-the-year award.
It's pretty much a complete unknown for me, but I'm also very excited.Em McDonald
"Honestly, no way did I think I was a chance of making the squad, there's some massive names in women's rugby now and I certainly wouldn't class myself among the best," McDonald said.
"I'm not going to lie, I'm very nervous a bit scared about making the move (from the Brumbies) into this squad, it's pretty much a complete unknown for me, but I'm also very excited."
McDonald and her Waratahs squad will begin training in late November, and even after the retirements of legend Ash Hewson and Alexandra Sulusi NSW are expected to head into the 2020 season as red-hot title favourites.
Forbes' LillyAnn Mason-Spice, fresh from her inclusion in the Australia A squad for this month's Oceania Rugby Women's Championship, was also named in the Waratahs squad, as were other Corellas Katrina Barker, Maya Stewart and Nicole Nathan.
"The next month for me is about developing my skills and learning from those big names in the squad," McDonald said.
"I'm really excited to learn from the best, I'll be traveling 12 hours a week to train and that is a big commitment but I'm definitely willing to do that because I love the game so much, I'm going to give it a good crack.
"The goal is to make the final cut, for sure, but at the same time I've got to look at the reality of my age and experience."
The Waratahs' squad will be cut to 30 in the lead-up to the season, but such is the development of the pathway from the country Aitken said the young halfback and the other Corellas included will have as much opportunity to cement their spots as their city-based counterparts.
"[The pathway is] something that Matt (Evrard) and Tim (Rapp) have put a lot of work into in recent years and we're beginning to reap the rewards," Aitken said.
"We've got great representation from NSW Country along with some exciting young players, who all got their opportunity at the Chikarovski Cup - it's a really valuable part of our pathway and selection process for Super W.
"There's a wealth of experience with the likes of (Wallaroos) Grace (Hamilton), Emily (Robinson) and Mahalia (Murphy) along with plenty of players within or on the fringes of the national team.
"We've got 11 players at the Oceania Rugby Championships this month, so their experience in that tournament into a solid pre-season can only benefit them coming into Super W."
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