Newcastle have earned their place in the NSW Women’s Premiership grand final at ANZ Stadium after holding off a second half surge from the star-studded Sharks in the state comp’s preliminary final last weekend.
The CRL outfit started the elimination battle on the front foot, with middle forward Tayla Predebon crashing over in the 20th minute, before Hannah Southwell doubled the try count in the 27th.
Mel Howard slotted the first of the two conversion chances to give Newcastle a 10-0 lead heading into the sheds. Rick Stone’s side had inched just 30 minutes away from the big dance, and spirits were high.
Jaime Chapman jolted Newcastle back into the contest in the 36th minute as she got the Sharks on the board, and State of Origin hero Maddie Studdon made no mistake with the kick to bring the game back to a four-point difference.
Newcastle’s forwards just continued to shine, however, as Caitlan Johnston scored in the 49th minute. Howard added the extras, and the buffer was enough to give CRL breathing room despite a late reply from Cronulla hooker Kaarla Cowan.
After an error-riddled second half gave the Sharks an avenue back into the game, Holli Wheeler knows the team will be chasing “discipline” in the build-up to the premiership’s big dance. “There were mistakes that could have cost us.”
“We’ll be working on errors and mistakes this weekend, we gave the Sharks an avenue into the game and we can’t afford to do that against the Mounties. They already have a massive forward pack, so we can’t cough up cheap ball.”
Despite the battle with Cronulla exposing a handful of errors from a Newcastle side that has barely been out on the gameday paddock since downing the Bulldogs in the league’s fifteenth round, Wheeler believes they have what it takes to win.
— Isaac McIntyre (@isaac_mcintyre6) August 3, 2019
Errors may have cropped up in the preliminary final, but that’s a rare anomaly for the team that lead both attacking stats with 264, and defensive stats with just 58 points conceded in the regular season.
Besides, there’s a cohesion in the team that sees them through any challenge.
“We’ve been building this team since the back end of last year and working towards this goal, and I think we’ve finally found a good place with a great balance of youth and experience,” Wheeler told the Women’s Chronicle.
“We all balance each other out and play for each other. The NRL competition is a higher level, sure, but it’s only eight weeks. These girls [with Newcastle] are the girls I go into battle with week in and week out, and see two, three, four times a week.
“The whole team has had these experiences together, last year wasn’t our best year but we learned from that. We’ve grown so strong, and we play for each other. Grassroots football is where your love of the game comes from.”
Read more recent news
- Bulldogs throw off hoodoo to make Coalfields history with upset over Wests
- Swans making history with region’s first Pride Cup in M1 derby against Wyong
- Singleton spinner Maisy Gibson signs with the Hurricanes ahead of WBBL|05
As well as that love, Newcastle boast another key element ahead of the clash with the Mounties – gamebreakers. Stars like Isabelle Kelly, Kylie Hilder, and club captain Bec Young have shone on the biggest stages, and then some.
Hilder especially will be a banner for the team as she marches out onto ANZ Stadium’s field on Saturday afternoon. The 43-year-old veteran has called time on her career after the final, and battled through an ankle injury to make sure she could play.
“Kylie is such an important part of our team, and has done so much for the game, we all just want to give her a fitting farewell if this really is her last game of rugby league,” Wheeler said of the team’s leading rake.
“She’s a freak of nature, I can’t believe she’s come back for the game. After the Bears match I said to her “Your ankle looks nine months pregnant” it was that big, and now she’s charged through recovery and was key for us last weekend.”
At the end of the day, there’s a giddy excitement surrounding the club too. It’s a grand final, after all. A chance to claim silverware.
For Holli, and all of the Newcastle stars, it’s also just a chance to play.
“I honest to god cannot wait, I’m so excited,” Wheeler said with a laugh.
“I just want to play now. If we play to our strengths then we’re a huge possibility that’s for sure. I have every confidence in the world in the girls and our coaching staff and gameplan. I’m just excited, it should be such a cracking game. I just can’t wait.”