The former Newcastle halfback was apparently quick to remind the Manly boys that he is an immortal.
And then there were two.
With a dominant 30-6 victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons, the Newcastle Knights became the first team to progress to the Women’s National Rugby League Premiership Grand Final.
Then, came the upset of the season.
The Parramatta Eels scraped into the semi-finals with just one win coming in the last round of the regular season against the Brisbane Broncos. Very few gave the blue and gold a chance against the reigning premiers and unbeaten Sydney Roosters, but Dean Widders and his team proved that they aren’t done yet.
With a 24-10 win over the Roosters, the Eels set up what will be a special day in the club’s history, with both the men’s and women’s team competing on Grand Final day.
Here’s your talking points.
The Knights go from zero 2021 wins to NRLW Grand Finalists
It was a tough first season for the Knights in the NRLW; not winning a game in their 2021 campaign.
What a difference a couple of months and some key signings makes. Millie Boyle and Tamika Upton have brought plenty of professionalism and expertise to the Knights. Add to this the talent of 17-year-old Jesse Southwell and the experience of Caitlan Johnston and the Knights looked like a completely different team in 2022.
After beating the Dragons comprehensively last weekend, the Knights did the same this week and never looked in doubt. Upton scored two tries and Boyle and Johnston did not tire, trundling up the middle set after set after set. Emma Manzelmann was monstrous in defence, making 31 tackles coming off the bench.
Whilst the Knights did not struggle to score points, what was particularly impressive about this victory was the strength they showed in defence, despite being under siege by the Dragons early in the first half. After repelling set after set, Newcastle got their first opportunity in the second half in the 52nd minute, with Upton crossing for her second.
The Knights have demonstrated what a difference some clever and astute signings can make. This is something other clubs should take notice of too, particularly given the competition’s expansion next year which will no doubt result in more player movement.
It’s been a tough time for the Newcastle region, with some average showings from the NRL team in recent years. But this NRLW team is the real deal and may just be good enough to deliver a premiership to the Steel City.
The Eels do the unthinkable
Very few people game the Eels a hope against the reigning Premiers. It was certainly a long shot, given Parramatta had only managed to win one game. However, the Eels were the big improvers in season 2022, with their losses to the Knights, Gold Coast Titans and Dragons being tight and only by six points maximum.
The Eels absolutely outclassed the Roosters yesterday and without wanting to use an old footy cliché, simply wanted it more.
With Tiana Penitani out due to injury, Abbi Church returned into the squad. Despite being injured midway through the first half, Church stayed on the field and between her and Rikeya Horne, managed to subdue the attacking prowess of Isabelle Kelly and Jessica Sergis.
Eels pairing Taylah Preston and Ash Quinlan were extremely impressive. Quinlan’s darts from dummy half caused the Roosters plenty of headaches near the try-line and Preston’s kicking game caught the Roosters off guard several times and led to points. There seemed to be a lack of urgency to get to Preston’s kicks, with many bounces favouring Parramatta or bouncing over the heads of the Roosters backline.
Simaima Taufa was inspirational from the front with 156 run metres and 36 tackles, and Kennedy Cherrington continued to bring the energy throughout the performance running for 214 metres and making 27 tackles.
The Eels have proven that in such a short season, there is an opportunity to peak at the right time of the season. That peak has meant that the Eels progress to their first NRLW Grand Final.
• With her two tries, Upton became the first Knights NRLW player to score a double.
• In the victory against the Dragons, Boyle ran 233 run metres and made 28 tackles. This means that she is now averaging 180 run metres per game in season 2022.
• The Eels are following in the footsteps of the 2021 Roosters, who also only managed to win one game in the regular season. The Roosters went on to win the premiership.
• The Eels will join the Eels NRL team with both sides progressing to their respective Grand Finals next weekend.
• This was the first game the Roosters had lost in the NRLW season.
To the next
There’s just one game to go now.
The Eels will play the Knights next weekend to decide who will become NRLW Premiers for 2022. Playing in the Grand Final is significant for both teams, who both missed the finals in 2021. May the best team win.