Greenacre (3rd) v Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks (4th)
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday 10 September
The Tigers and Sharks meet up in the Sydney Metropolitan Womens Rugby League decider – a winner-takes-all affair to be held at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday. With both sides successfully defeating Mounties and the Redfern All Blacks – the competition’s two top ranked sides – in their last two games, the Grand Final will be contested between the sides that finished the regular season in third and fourth.
The match-up, as with any good Grand Final, is an incredibly difficult one to pick. Following the Tigers’ 2015 victory, they will be going for back-to-back titles and still boast a number of players that played in last year’s decider. Greenacre also have the upper hand over their opposition in recent times, having convincingly defeated Cronulla-Caringbah 36-18 five weeks ago and finishing with three extra victories than this weekend’s opposition. With a full representative contingent to contend with on Saturday, however, the Tigers know it will not be so easy this time around.
Boasting a total of five NSW representatives – including NSW Women and Jillaroos skipper Ruan Sims – the Sharks are, on paper, more experienced than any other team in the competition. Many of their stars have been absent for much of the year, however, as five-eighth Allana Ferguson explains.
“We have a big mixed back,” Ferguson told NSWRL.com.au. “All of those names on paper are great, but we’ve played most of the season without them.
“I think every team has rep players – we’ve got a bit of a smaller pack, but our skillset and hopefully knowledge on the field will give us the win.”
It’s a vastly different situation for the defending premiers, however, with only captain Eliana Walton pulling on a sky blue jersey in the historic victory over Queensland. While Walton told NSWRL.com.au about the special bond formed in Greenacre, she was quick to assume underdog status ahead of the season finale.
“I reckon we would be coming in as underdogs, because the only rep player is me!” Walton said. “We’re trying to go back-to-back, so I think we’re just trying to stay composed with our game plan.
“They’re quite a talented team so it’s going to be an unpredictable game – it could go either way.”
With Greenacre winning the Major Semi Finals over Mounties last week, they’ve had the so-called luxury of a weekend off and should head into the decider refreshed. Walton, however, has left no stone unturned in her side’s preparation.
“I’ve actually smashed them in training,” Walton laughed. “We normally play Saturday, so I chucked in a Saturday two-hour session as well. They haven’t had a chance to have a day off.”
Where it will be won:
Both Walton and Ferguson identified ruck speed and the time afforded to halves as the key to winning this game. With both sides possessing relatively small and mobile forward packs, the game will move as fast as either side can take it and should provide for an entertaining spectacle.
“I think just controlling the ruck, slowing the play-the-balls down and just having control in the first half of each half,” Ferguson explained. “I think both teams will kind of struggle with that and the shift-out-the-back plays will work, depending on what team has that control.”
Walton, meanwhile, was adamant that her mobile pack would be able to compete and allow the side’s classy outside backs to flourish.
“I think it would be a shared workload for us because we have real mobile forwards,” Walton said. “Just trying to stay composed in the backline, we’ve got the speed and pace in the backline and we’re just overall an all-round team.”
With plenty of class in both sets of halves, how much time they get to assess their options will determine each team’s attacking ability. In particular, both teams will be focused on shutting down Greenacre’s Chloe Leaupepe and Cronulla-Caringbah’s Maddie Studdon.
“Chloe Leaupepe’s pretty good with the ball, taking the ball to the line,” Ferguson said. “Maybe stopping her show-and-go; we’re quite conscious that she takes the ball to the line with options but also doesn’t mind having a crack herself.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, have their own target in mind: Jillaroos and NSW Women’s halfback Maddie Studdon.
“Our focus would be Maddie Studdon,” Walton put simply. “We’ll be trying to not take her out, but just not give her opportunities.”
Also happening at Leichhardt on Saturday will be three other Grand Finals: Division 2 of the Sydney Metropolitan Women’s Rugby League will kick off proceedings with its decider at 12:30pm, before Division 2 of Tertiary Rugby League compete for the Bill Buckley Memorial Trophy. The top grade of the SMWRL will follow at 4pm, before the UTS Tigers and TAFE Western Sydney Polecats battle it out in Division 1 of the Tertiary Rugby League. It’s set to be an action-packed afternoon in Sydney’s inner-west – for more information, view the full fixture details here.
Witness history this September at the 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day. On Sunday, 25 September the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider, along with the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield Grand Finals, take place at Pirtek Stadium, with tickets just $10 for adults and kids under 12 free. Click here to secure your seat.