South Sydney players shied away from firing shots at former coach Anthony Seibold this week, but star hooker Damien Cook says he loves the rivalry emerging between the two NRL clubs.
On Sunday, the second season of the NRLW will come to a close with the grand final between the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons.
I genuinely have no idea who is going to win this game.
The Dragons came into this season as favourites following some stellar off-season recruitments, including the likes of Maddie Studdon, Brittany Breayley, Teuila Fotu-Moala and Botille Vette-Welsh. These signings bolstered an already strong team featuring established talent like Kezie Apps and Holli Wheeler and emerging talent like Maddison Weatherall.
Despite being premiers last year, the Broncos came into this season underestimated by many due to the talent lost to other clubs, including the Dragons. Many questioned how the club would respond and how some of their new talent would perform throughout the season.
The Broncos have (again) been consistent throughout 2019. They won their first two games and suffered a shock loss to the New Zealand Warriors last weekend, their first defeat in NRLW history.
The Dragons’ season started shakily with a loss to Brisbane. This is not unexpected given the NRLW only has a four-week preseason, meaning the players don’t have much time to get to know each other and work out their combinations.
This is one of the greatest challenges of the NRLW. Because of the length of the season, one thing the clubs don’t have is time. Combinations need to click almost immediately, otherwise making the grand final will be nearly impossible.
Fortunately for the Dragons, their combinations clicked in their second game against the Warriors. In the second half the Dragons scored five unanswered tries and came from 6-0 down to beat the Warriors 26-6. The squad has not looked back since.
So what happens this weekend?
As scary as this sounds, I don’t think we have seen the best of the Dragons this season. Their squad remains unchanged and will line up the same as they did against the Roosters last weekend. The Broncos will be bolstered by the return of Australian Jillaroo Meg Ward, who will replace Tamika Upton.
There are key match-ups all over the field.
I’m looking forward to watching the battle of the fullbacks. Chelsea Baker for the Broncos is a stalwart in the women’s game and will be playing for a Jillaroos jersey in October. At the other end of the field will be Botille Vette-Welsh, who played for the Roosters last year but came across to the Dragons this year to replace Sammy Bremner, who has just given birth.
Vette-Welsh has had an incredible season. She has starred for the Wests Tigers in the New South Wales Women’s Premiership and has been outstanding for the Dragons too. Her form was rewarded earlier this week when she was a finalist for the female Dally M player of the year.
There’s another key match-up in the halves between Ali Brigginshaw and Raecene McGregor for the Broncos and Maddie Studdon and Keeley Davis for the Dragons. The last time these two teams met in Round 1, Brigginshaw had the edge over Studdon, leading the Broncos to a 14-4 victory. Studdon was noticeably quiet and visibly frustrated with a couple of errors.
Her game has certainly stepped up a notch with Davis moving into the halves, and Studdon will be looking to add more to her two try assists already this season.
Keep an eye on the hookers too. Brittany Breayley is one of the best players in the game, but Lavinia Gould has also had plenty of impact for the Broncos this year with two line break assists and one try assist.
I’m predicting a Dragons win, with Jessica Sergis to be awarded the Karyn Murphy Medal.
But whoever wins this game, I’m hoping that trophy is lifted in front of a big crowd. This year the NRLW will be played between the Interstate Cup and the men’s grand final. This is a positive change by the NRL from last year and will ensure that plenty more people get to see the talent on display in the NRLW.
This season has been a big step up from last year in terms of fitness, skill level and quality of rugby league and certainly gives us plenty to build on and look forward to in the year ahead.