The NSW Waratahs women’s team hasn’t tasted defeat in two years in the Super W, but Hunter star Cheech Barker admits she’s still “feeling a little nervous” ahead of the decider on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a “good nervous”, the unstoppable centre said, as the Waratahs head into the standalone clash at Leichhardt Oval with four straight regular season victories under their belt.
“I’m not enjoying the wait, I just want to play now,” Barker said ahead of the weekend’s run-in. “I’ve got the good nerves building up now, and our training this week has been the best in 2019 yet, so I’m ready to go.”
“Come game time we’re just going to flip the switch, all the nerves will melt away, and we’ll be ready. The beers always taste better after a win, so we’re aiming for that.”
NSW’s dominant womens side comes into the heavyweight clash this weekend as the odds favourites, and looking to defend their 2018 title after the glorious run across the most recent campaign.
The big dance sees a rematch of last year’s title fight, as New South Wales and Queensland again come face to face for a chance at the highest glory women’s domestic rugby in Australia has to offer.
Barker’s focus is a little bit narrower than that – the 26-year-old revealed her thoughts are of that first crunching hit-up she’ll be looking to deliver out of the line.
“I’ll be flying out of the line somewhere at the start of the match before, it’s a good way to get rid of those pre-game nerves,” she said.
“I like to get that first hitup done, and then I’m sweet for the rest of the match. It’s gets you in the zone, and I want to be ready to roll across the entire game.”
The Newcastle Waratahs representative has been named in the number 12 jersey in the closing match of the Super W season, her favoured position. There were question marks around where she could potentially slot in to the starting side, after a stint in the halves against the Rebels showed her versatility on the park.
“I actually went into halfback against the Rebels because our actual half was away at a wedding, so I kind of had to go there,” she revealed with a laugh. “I don’t mind it, but I haven’t got a meatpie yet this season and the backs were having a field day that game.”
“I remember thinking during the game “Damn it, I might have had a chance this game and here I am stuck at halfback”, but overall it was fine. We have a lot of new girls this year, so it was great to see the younger ones getting a full game and getting that confidence.”
One youngster in the Waratahs squad that every eye in the Hunter is turned toward is 19-year-old speedster Maya Stewart. The livewire winger, named in the starting XV for the team this Sunday, has already scored two tries in four games for NSW.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the young star from Nelson Bay, but not one that was entirely unexpected for Barker.
“After I did my elbow in the grand final last year, I stepped into a coaching role with the Waratahs in Newcastle for a bit, and I got to work with Maya,” Barker revealed. “She’s happy to listen and learn, and just put her best foot forward, as well as give 100 percent in everything she does, so of course she’s gone well.”
“To go from where she was a year ago, not even playing rugby, to in the final of the Super W is awesome. It’s great for her to experience all of this, and all the media and excitement around it. She’s doing a really great job.”
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Barker also admitted she loves having Stewart in the side for her blistering pace as well as the Hunter companionship – Nelson Bay’s star product is one of the fastest players on the field.
“It’s good to have her on the wing because she’s so far, I’m a bit jealous. If we get her into a gap or space she’s just gone,” the NSW centre said. “I don’t know if this will happen, but if I ever make a break I’m just looking for Maya. I can pass it to her, or kick it out, and I know she’ll just run it down and score.”
Ahead of the final contest of the 2019 season in the Super W, Barker also said it was “amazing” to see all the support from the Hunter, from fans to clubs supporting her and Maya’s journey to the national competition.
“Because Maya and I travel so much and spend so much money on things like fuel and tolls, it’s been amazing to have the support from everyone back home,” Barker said.
“The Hawthorne Club gave us some money to help out with petrol, and it’s little things like that that just help so much for us. The Waratahs in Newcastle have been amazing too, the whole club comes down on gamedays to support just me and Maya and having that support from the locals is so important, and so special.
“I think just because Newcastle is such a little town, girls watching from the city and having inspirations like Maya – who’s just a young girl from Nelson Bay herself – means they can watch us, and think “If she’s doing that, I can too”, and I hope that’s one of the things that comes out of us playing with the ‘Tahs.”
Barker, Stewart, and the defending champions the NSW Waratahs will take to the field against Queensland on Sunday, April 7 in the grand final at Leichardt Oval. The match will kick-off at 4.30pm AEST, and will be aired live on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports, and on-demand via RUGBY.com.au.