Amidst the rubble of another failed campaign, young Knight Jesse Southwell has emerged primed to break new ground and stake a claim for Newcastle’s vacant throne.
A dark age descended upon Newcastle when their sovereign leader Andrew Johns called time on his storied playing career in 2007.
For the next 15 years, the Knights’ quest to anoint a worthy successor to his famous number seven jersey provided perpetual false dawns, with all momentary flickers of light extinguished by clean outs, failed takeovers and wooden spoons.
Last Sunday, as Newcastle’s men succumbed to another disappointing defeat, their women ran onto McDonald Jones Stadium with a prodigious talent set to make one almighty statement in battle.
The moment Jesse Southwell arrived as Newcastle’s next superstar 7
Emblazoned in red and blue armour and donning the white helmet synonymous with her family name, 17-year-old debutant Jesse Southwell gave rise to the hopes of the Hunter once more.
A dramatic right-foot step and turn of speed close to the line provided safe passage for Southwell to open the scoring, her try was remarkably reminiscent of Johns’ first in the big leagues 28 years ago.
To prove it was no fluke Jesse again exploded through the Broncos defensive line, this time from deep inside her own half. Another emphatic right-foot jink rendered Broncos fullback Jaime Chapman useless and clutching at the dust in her wake. Newcastle scored off the following play and never looked back.
The youngest player to lace up the boots in NRLW history was scintillating against three-time Champions the Brisbane Broncos and instrumental in Newcastle’s maiden victory at this level.
Jesse Southwell absolutely carving up the field in her NRLW debut 🤯— NSW Rugby League (@NSWRL) August 22, 2022
PS She bagged the first try of the Knights' 2022 season ☝️
PPS She also created history, scoring a try moments after becoming the NRLW’s youngest debutant 🤩 pic.twitter.com/EdzPYFPJOD
The gravity of Southwell’s impact surprised many, but not those in power at the Knights, who landed her signature in 2020 just shy of her 15th birthday. She was the first female to sign a professional contract with the club more than two years before they would even field a side in the Women’s Premiership – an incredible display of foresight and footballing acumen that deserves to be acknowledged.
Back in 2020, Jesse Southwell was the first female to officially sign a playing contract with the Newcastle Knights.— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) August 11, 2022
Fast forward to 2022 and the young half has joined our NRLW side, linking up with her sister Hannah for the upcoming season 🔴🔵#allredandblue #NRLW pic.twitter.com/mrPGRoGdVL
Their recruitment in 2022 to support Jesse Southwell’s rise is equally as impressive and places the Knights in a position where claiming their first senior Premiership in 21 years is no longer a pipedream.
Her ability to spearhead this charge will rightfully be questioned considering her age and lack of NRLW experience, but the education she received winning Commonwealth Games Rugby 7’s gold in a pressurised environment against world class athletes will undoubtedly pay dividends.
Regardless of whether Southwell can become the first halfback since Johns to lead the Knights to glory, it is imperative we appreciate and enjoy a once-in-a-generation talent embarking on a long and illustrious career.
Jesse might not be the successor Knights fans envisioned – but could exceed all expectations. Her potential to grow the women’s game and restore pride in a region starved of success could see her trailblaze a new and exciting path. One which could very well lead to a celebrated legacy of her own.