Externally all the talk about this team has been about their incredible underdog status. How they have surpassed all expectations and how their run to the grand final has defied all belief. Yet when Simaima Taufa leads her team onto the hallowed turf of Accor Stadium tomorrow I can’t help but think that internally this outcome wasn’t a shock. That their self-belief never wavered and their arrival at the final game of the 2022 season was simply the natural realisation of the collective talent this team knew they had.
Dean Widders has steered his young charges into the biggest game of their careers on the back of a perfectly timed run. Widders has been of bastion of quiet confidence, a pillar of resolve and positivity for his team and it no surprise that they have responded in the fashion we have seen. The missing ingredient through the first month of the season was simply
thyme…I mean time. Given enough games to forge their bonds and strengthen their connections they were able to flourish.
With a coach that has armed them with the requisite belief the players have responded. Taufa and Tiana Penitani have proven to be wonderful leaders.The likes of Kennedy Cherrington and Ellie Johnston have given teeth to the forwards while Tayla Preston and Ashleigh Quinlan emerged from the clouds in Round 2 to give the Blue & Gold a battery of formidable playmakers. It doesn’t end there either. Rookie sensation Gayle Broughton has only just begun to tap into her potential at fullback while the rest of the backline has punched well and truly above its weight. Throw in a pair of tireless backrowers in Christian Pio and Vanessa Foliaki and a mix of guile and grit at dummy half and you have the formula for the NRLW’s finest band of battlers.
All that left is one final game. A tour of revenge on multiple levels really. For the club, it can be a poultice for the scars of 2001. For this team it is a chance to right the injustice of a controversial loss in Round 3. Above it all it is the chance to make history and finish this incredible story in the manner it deserves.
Date: Sunday October 2, 2022
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
Kick Off: 3:55 PM, AEST
Referee: Kasey Badger
Senior Review Official: Adam Gee
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
|1||Gayle Broughton||1||Tamika Upton|
|2||Zali Fay||2||Kiana Takairangi|
|3||Abbi Church||3||Shanice Parker|
|4||Rikeya Horne||4||Bobbi Law|
|5||Cassey Tohi-Hiku||5||Emmanita Paki|
|6||Ashleigh Quinlan||6||Kira Dibb|
|7||Tayla Preston||7||Jesse Southwell|
|8||Kennedy Cherrington||8||Caitlan Johnston|
|9||Brooke Anderson||9||Olivia Higgins|
|10||Ellie Johnston||10||Mille Boyle (c)|
|11||Christian Pio||11||Romy Teitzel|
|12||Vanessa Foliaki||12||Yasmin Clydesdale|
|13||Simaima Taufa (c)||13||Kayla Romaniuk|
|14||Filomina Hanisi||14||Emma Manzelmann|
|15||Seli Mailangi||15||Tayla Predebon|
|16||Najvada George||16||Simone Karpani|
|17||Rima Butler||17||Mackensie Weale|
|18||Ruby-Jean Kennard||18||Caitlan Moran|
|19||Brooke-Morgan Walker||20||Kyra Simon|
The Parramatta Eels
Tiana Penitani has been ruled out as of today. Like Tom Opacic it is a cruel twist of fate for the co-captain who not only stands as a pillar of the team but also as a game-breaker. Abbi Church will start at left centre in her absence, the place where she performed so wonderfully well against the Roosters last week. Coach Widders has formalised two of the key moves he has made ahead of kick off in the last two matches as Kennedy Cherrington and Brooke Anderson start in place of Filomina Hanisi and Seli Mailangi respectively.
That is the extent of the changes for the big one. The Parramatta Eels enter this game with a rock steady roster and a truckload of momentum and belief. They have the blueprint for success. They know what it takes to not only trade blows with the best in this competition but how to deliver an almighty haymaker. Hell, they know what it takes to beat the Newcastle Knights. They have the middles to go to war in the ruck. They have backrowers and centres who can maximise their opportunities. They have a spine that is growing in leaps and bounds with each passing game. All that is left is to execute for 70 final minutes. One last game to claim an incredible piece of history for club, for the team and for themselves.
The Newcastle Knights
It is impossible to talk about the Knights without starting first with their pair of prized recruits. Captain Millie Boyle and superstar fullback Tamika Upton have completely transformed the Novocastrians from a listless roster in the 2021 season to a borderline powerhouse in the space of a few months. It has been an incredible process for the Newcastle Knights and one that likely inspires hope in each of the upcoming expansion rosters for their potential fortunes.
Boyle partners the impressive Caitlan Johnston in the front row to form an outstanding starting rotation. The platform these two provide is up there with the best and a huge reason for why the Knights have been competitive against all comers. One player that has benefitted the most from that stability in the ruck is the freshly crowned Dally M Rookie Of The Year Jesse Southwell. The outstanding young halves prospect has played like a seasoned professional and is without a doubt one of the key players for Newcastle tomorrow.
Ultimately, the Knights field a well-rounded roster. There is strike in the backline, serious grunt in the pack and legit playmakers to take advantage of it. When all is said and done though it feels like Upton is the heartbeat of this team. The player that can create something from nothing and turn half chances into 4-pointers. Containing her will be critical come Sunday and while putting her on a full lockdown seems insanely optimistic, restricting her impact in any capacity will be huge.
The Whole Dang Team
Because that is what it takes to win the biggest game of your life. Sure you can point to the stars and individual difference makers but no contest embodies the importance of 17 clasped links in the chain sharing the burden more than a rugby league grand final. Each tackle, each run, each pass and catch. Every single one of them can the difference between victory and defeat. You don’t need to be a superstar to make a legendary play in the decider. All 17 women need to stand up and be counted tomorrow.
Even so there is a still a focus on the individuals. Sixties has singled out Gayle Broughton as his critical player in the big game. It sure feels like she is poised to explode after a steady build through the season. Her damaging kick returns and gutsy last line defence have been featured heavily in the last two games and both will be huge tomorrow. The consistency in those areas is expected of her but there could very well be a singular moment where her special blend of strength and explosive footwork could blow the game wide open.
Simaima Taufa & Kennedy Cherrington
Absolutely inseparable for mine. Taufa and Cherrington embody the Blue & Gold spirit perfectly. Fierce, relentless, implacable. If there is an opportunity to seize they will be there to take it. If there isn’t one they will find a way to move Heaven and Earth to create it. They are absolute gladiators and will put their bodies on the line for the team without a moment’s hesitation. One or both will blaze a path tomorrow.