Wests’ two-point win over 2019 grand final rivals Central “couldn’t be sweeter,” assistant coach Chris Stephen admitted, especially after their 6–4 victory over the reigning Blues Tag champs fired them with touching distance of first place.
“The whole team wanted to knock them over, oh yeah, especially after [the grand final] last year,” Rosellas assistant coach Chris Stephens told the Chronicle after Wests’ triumph on the weekend.
“We had a couple of missed opportunities, and maybe could have put a few more on, but we did what we needed to do… Charlestown are clearly the benchmark, even if they’ve lost a couple of players this year, so we wanted to see how we shaped against them.”
Stephens, who guided Wests to the NRL big dance last season before falling to Central, has handed over the head coach reigns to Matthew Atkinson for the 2020 season.
He’s stayed on as second-in-command, however, and will continue to be involved with the Wests campaign in 2020 and beyond.
The coaching pair have invested heavily in a new brand of footy this season, Stephens said, which sees the Rosellas play for “fast-paced breaks” down the middle. They have the stock for it too, and proved it on the weekend.
The scoreboard may have remained relatively quiet — Emily Coppins was the only try-scorer for the winners at Harker Oval on Sunday morning — but they still threatened down the middle of the park from first whistle to last.
Ainsley and Estelle Hughes have been key to the new playstyle too.
The sister act joined Wests from Lakes in the offseason, and “slotted in immediately.” Now they’re wreaking havoc in the center of the park for the Rosellas.
The ladies in red and green were also able to keep Central, renowned for their own defence, quiet across the full clash. It was a “brilliant effort” from the girls, Stephens said, especially knowing “just know much they wanted to win.”
“None of the girls like losing! Our big goal is to get to the grand final and get the biccies again, so we really wanted to beat Central to show that we were back at our best.
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“I don’t know if we’ve had it in the back of our head of thinking ‘Can we beat them,’ but the girls were fired up to beat them.
“Definitely a foot through the door, getting the win up on them and, hopefully, that’s a big benefit to us down the track.”
In the end, Kristy Houghton’s converted goal was the difference in the ten-point battle too, and Wests walked away with two competition points. The win fires them up into third place in the NRL, right behind breakaway Blues Tag leaders Maitland and Souths.
Also in Round 4, Souths edged Lakes in a 16–10 clash at Townson Oval, while Wyong rolled over Nelson Bay in a 52–point masterclass on the coast.
Cessnock also recorded their first win of the shortened 2020 season with a 14–12 win over Kurri Kurri, who are left at the bottom of the NRL standings on 0–4. The Goannas draw level with Lakes on 2 points, but behind on point difference.
Maitland retain their place atop the Newcastle Rugby League standings with their free two-point bye in Round 4. They return to play in week five with a blockbuster clash against the high-flying Rosellas at Maitland No.1 Sportsground.
STANDINGS: Souths, Maitland (8), Wests, Wyong (6), Central, Nelson Bay (4), Lakes, Cessnock (2), Kurri Kurri (0).