Five years ago, when Raecene McGregor first played for St George Illawarra, the NRLW had just finished its first ever season and the New Zealand halfback was still trying to find her place among the game’s elite.
Now, after half a decade of staggering achievement, McGregor returns to where it all started as arguably the best player in all of women’s rugby league.
The Dragons announced nine signings in this week’s transfer blitz but none carry the same prestige as McGregor, who will be one of the rocks on which coach Jamie Soward rebuilds his squad.
“It feels like a long time ago that I wore this jersey but I’m so excited to be back at the club. Speaking to Sowie, some of the ideas he has in place for the team, I’m really excited to be on board and get behind that,” McGregor said.
“Sowie reached out to me, we had a chat and I really liked what he had to say about what he wants to do with the club.
“He’s really passionate, he really cares about the women’s game and there’s not many people who come across as well as he does. Him being so passionate drew me to the club, it’s been awesome.”
McGregor was a capable footballer during her last stint with the Dragons – she’d already played for New Zealand – but in the years since, she’s transformed into a top class playmaker.
First there was the back-to-back premierships with Brisbane in 2019 and 2020, where she partnered the legendary Ali Brigginshaw in the halves.
Another premiership with the Roosters in 2022’s first season followed, before her virtuoso display in last year’s second season.
McGregor accumulated 10 try assists in just five matches, doubling the record for try assists in a season and claiming Dally M honours, before claiming the Golden Boot award as best international player after her performances for New Zealand at the World Cup.
A strong runner and deft passer with an elite attacking kicking game, the 25-year old is one of the players who has risen to the challenge as the women’s game has grown more sophisticated and professional in recent years.
Currently, McGregor is locked in a battle with Newcastle fullback Tamika Upton and incoming Roosters prop Millie Boyle as the sport’s top player, but she could yet hit an even higher ceiling.
Soward did fine work in developing rookies Rachael Pearson and Taliah Fuimaono into two of the best halves in NRLW – over the last 12 months, Pearson grew into an Origin-calibre player while Fuimaono made her Jillaroos debut during the World Cup.
With a player of McGregor’s experience and quality at Soward’s disposal, there could be no limits on what the duo could achieve together, especially since McGregor isn’t the type to rest on her laurels.
“I’m a little bit older, I’ve been in the system a bit longer and I understand the little things you need to do to be the best and how to continue to work on your game,” McGregor said.
“Last time I was at the Dragons I was a lot fresher to the game, I didn’t do the little things I do know.
“The little extras really count, getting to training earlier or staying back later to work on those little things, it might be kicking or it might be fitness – I didn’t really do that when I was younger, I just got in and out.”
Soward played a key role in recruiting McGregor, as did the chance for the three-time premiership winner to play alongside her sister Page, a damaging centre.
The McGregors have worn the black and white of New Zealand together many times, including in last year’s run to the World Cup final, but have never linked up at club level.
“I can’t lie, I really wanted to play with my sister so that was a driving force for me to come here. Having her there was a big push for me to move over,” McGregor said.
“Aside from New Zealand, we haven’t played with each other since we were kids because she was in the rugby system for so long.
“It’s been a while since we played with each other every week and I’m excited to get some rounds in with her.
“We first played sport together when we were seven or eight, we played soccer together, and there’s still nothing like it.”