The NRL’s ambitious push to emerge from the COVID-19 shutdown has paid off after attracting its biggest television audience for a regular-season game in more than six years.
For so many people there is a tremendous sense of pride about what has been achieved in the first year of the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership.
On Wednesday night at the Dally M Awards, former Australian Jillaroos captain and first ever women’s New South Wales Blues captain captivated the audience with a speech about how far the women’s game had come since she had played.
From an era where she spent her evenings at the pub tackling punters to buy raffle tickets so the women could afford to represent their country at a Rugby League World Cup, to a time where women now have the opportunity to represent the NRL teams they grew up watching as children is remarkable. It is all thanks to so many people – players, administrators, fans and advocates – that we have finally made it here.
This afternoon the competition will come to an end when the grand final is contested between the Sydney Roosters and the Brisbane Broncos. What a historic moment for our game, where both the men and the women will have the opportunity to play on the same stage on the same day to see which teams will be crowned premiers.
But who is going to win the game?
I think most people are predicting the Broncos and with very good reason. The Broncos have been the best team throughout the competition so far. Beginning with their win over the St George Illawarra Dragons in Round 1 by 26-4, the Broncos have gone into this grand final unbeaten.
There are some players that you should keep an eye on during this grand final. Let’s start with the Broncos halfback Ali Brigginshaw. Ali has been a key part of the Broncos’ success this year and was very unlucky to miss out on a nomination for Female Dally M Player of the Year.
For the Roosters to have any chance of winning this game, they must shut Ali down and not give her any room to move. She has worked on her running game in the lead up to the competition and has demonstrated on several occasions that she is not afraid to take on the line, meaning she not only sets up plenty of tries, but scores them as well.
The reason Ali didn’t get a Dally M nomination is that only one player was nominated from each team and for the Broncos, it was Brittany Breayley. Brittany has been a weapon in attack and defence, making the most tackles for the Broncos in every single game so far.
Peter Sterling went as far as to call her the ‘player of the competition’ and it sounds like the Dally M judging panel of Jillaroos coach Brad Donald, NRL Elite Pathways Manager Jamie Feeney and former Jillaroo Karyn Murphy agreed.
At these talent playmakers to a backline featuring the likes of Chelsea Baker, Julia Robinson (who scored a remarkably acrobatic try last week) and you have a team that will be tough to beat on Sunday.
Interestingly though, the team that came closest to beating the Broncos last time they met were the Roosters and who knows what would have happened had tries to Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki not been disallowed.
The Roosters were a team that many tipped as premiers, but after losing their opening two games it wasn’t looking good.
Fortunately, their win over the Dragons on the weekend was enough to book them a place in the grand final and perhaps they have found form just at the right point.
Adam Hartigan made a big decision last week when he decided to drop New South Wales Blues captain Maddie Studdon in favour of Zahara Temara – the big question ahead of this grand final is who will wear the number seven jersey for the Roosters.
The key for the Roosters in this game will be making sure that their halves get good early ball out to their backs. The Roosters boast some of the most talented backs in women’s rugby league. They have the experience of Karina Brown but also the youth and talent of Isabelle Kelly and Taleena Simon.
Taleena scored four tries last weekend against the Dragons and Isabelle has scored a try in almost every game that she has played this year.
Whilst the Broncos are the obvious tip, I think this one is going to be a lot closer than what people think.
It’s been a very special inaugural season.
The most positive thing about this competition, apart from the remarkable stories that have been shared about the players playing in it, has been its quality.
We have seen that in the last two years the AFLW has been heavily criticised for the quality of the play. I can honestly say that I have not seen this criticism at all in regard to the NRL.
I want to commend the NRL on their decision to only have four teams in the opening year. This restriction meant that talent was evenly distributed across the board and that fans were delighted with the level of skill displayed on the field each week.
I’ll be following the NRL closely at the conclusion of the season to try and get an understanding of what worked well this year and what didn’t.
I know that the NRL are committed to this competition so it’s time to begin looking ahead, particularly considering there has been a 29 per cent increase in female participation over the last year.
I have every confidence though that in making decisions about the future of the women’s game, the NRL will be sure to engage with the people that know the product the best and that’s the women that play our game.
I’m tipping the upset on the weekend – Roosters by four.