The Newcastle Knights have already had a fantastic start to the Tarsha Gale Cup season, claiming four wins and copping just a single loss in 2019.
Now, sitting in second place in the under 18 womens representative competition, the 2018 runners-up are set to come face-to-face with their grand final rivals the Cronulla Sharks this weekend.
It’s a challenge coach Josh Potapczyk believes his “developing squad” is more than capable of rising to come at Shark Park on Saturday, March 16.
“It’s been a very positive start to the season so far, and I’m really happy with the effort and attitude the girls have displayed throughout the first five weeks,” Potapczyk said.
“I’ve said to the girls at training that their performance against the Tigers last week [a 28-10 win] was the best we’ve had this year, and everyone did their job perfectly across the park and we even saw a few special efforts to close it out. A complete team performance.”
That ever-increasing talent and confidence has put the Knights right at the door of a chance at revenge against the Sharks, who knocked the Novocastrian outfit over 36-22 in the big dance to close out 2018.
“Our desire is to go out there and get the win over the Sharks,” the Knights head coach said. “That said, our main focus is to put what we’ve been practicing in the game, and making sure we’re looking at ourselves and learning. We want to start strong and go from there.”
Looking within the squad for the potential winning factor has long been Potapczyk’s game, and last season it saw the Knights coach guide his under 18s squad all the way to the grand final in their very first year.
Once again he’s looked to grow the talent of the region with his position as the Newcastle helmsman in the Tarsha Gale Cup competition, and he’s already had a few girls prove they’re ready to lead the side. Potentially, they could even make the next step up in the world of rugby league.
“One of our girls, Cody Campbell, was actually involved in the run-on training squad last year but she didn’t take that last step and make it to the squad,” Potapczyk explained.
“She’s clearly gone away with what we said at the end of last season, come back and now she’s started every single week and it’s evident with how amazing she’s been in our opening five games. Olivia Kernick and Caitlan Johnston were too more that have shown they have what it takes.”
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Johnston has already made a step up in rugby league as well, Potapczyk pointed out, when she represented the Maori team against the Ferns in a blockbuster clash earlier in the year.
“To watch Caitlan make that next step up was really exciting, and it’s been great to see her come back and use those experiences to further her game and everyone around her,” he said.
“What I am trying to achieve with this side is to improve the girl’s skills across the board as rugby league players so that they can make the transition into the Women’s Premiership at the end of the Tarsha Gale Cup.
“We’ve had a lot of newer girls in the competition that are just coming in off the back of local leagues and gala days. It really shows that there’s this pathway there that we can work with and get these girls to learn the game and move on to the next, higher levels.”
Before the rising stars of the Newcastle Knights take that next leap into the unknown however, they have a very real challenge ahead of them – the Cronulla Sharks.
Potapczyk reached out to Knights fans and the Newcastle community to ask for support in the coming weeks, against the Sharks and further ahead to the next home game against the Steelers in a fortnight’s time.
“Our next home game against the Steelers in Dudley will be a fantastic game where two great sides will put on some brilliant rugby league,” he said. “If fans of the Knights are free, come along to Dudley Oval at 4.30pm and support the girls in red and blue. Should be a great afternoon.”
The Knights will kick off against the Sharks in Sydney on Saturday, March 16. The home game clash against the Steelers – currently first place – will be one week later on March 23. Kick-off at Dudley Oval is slated for 4.30pm that afternoon.