NSW City overcame a fair amount of adversity in the second half to hold onto their solid lead for a 46-0 win over Combined Affiliated States (CAS) to open their 2019 Harvey Norman Women's National Championships campaign.
It was a nine-try victory, set up with a superb first 30 minutes, in which the CAS line was crossed seven times.
But injuries to City caused a bit of reshuffling – the major one being starting No.7 Maddie Studdon with a cork to her left hip not able to take the field in the second half – and consequently some hiccups in attack.
But CAS also tightened their defence in the second 30 minutes, where only 10 points were scored, and with a few penalties coming their way they were able to stem the NSW City tide.
Coach Steve Kelly named nine debutants in his 17 and stood back to watch five of the nine tries coming to players in a blue-and-gold City jersey for the first time, including a hat-trick by 26-year-old Cronulla winger Kiana Takairangi.
Fullback Botille Vette-Welsh (Wests Tigers) and second rower Shaylee Bent (Mounties) were the other debutants to score.
"We started really well. I asked the girls to be very pro-active for the first 15 minutes and they were," Kelly said, after five tries were racked up by the 14th minute – Saraha Togatukie (Mounties) in the 2nd minute, Corbin McGregor (Cronulla) in the 9th and Takairangi in the 7th, 11th, and 14th.
"We stuck to the game plan and everything seemed to work well.
"Unfortunately Maddie getting hurt there, threw our structure out a little bit. Sarah (Togatuki) copping a bit of a head knock didn't help either and young Aaliyah (Faamausili) hurt her knee so we had a few changes through our roster."
Togatuki left the field in the 36th minute for an HIA (head injury assessment) but returned later. Hooker Karla Cowan (Cronulla) did a fine job as stand-in No.7 while five-eighth Quincy Dodd (Cronulla) picking up more of the load as well.
"We changed things around in the second half and early on that caused us to be a little scrappy. But we wrestled it back and then got a few points towards the back end to finish the game the way we wanted to.
"CAS were extremely willing and able and they came ready to play footy in that second half and made it hard for us."
Vette-Welsh scored City's sixth try playing at fullback, after filling in mostly at halfback for her club this year. The 22-year-old damaged her medial ligaments just prior to last year's National Championships and missed out.
"Once I got my first ball I was ready. And then you get your first run, first tackle, first grind and that settled me down straight away. It was really cool, really exciting," the Wests Tigers back said.
"Coming in training I didn’t really know everyone so I was a bit nervous. But coming together out there on game day it all seemed to gel and fell into place quite well."
Vette-Welsh could be heard barking instructions to her edges, especially in defence. She marvelled at the flair of players like McGregor and Takairangi.
"It was so exciting to play with them – they are super starts. It is cool to amongst them instead of always looking up at them.
"You see a lot more from fullback... easier to slot in and finish things off with those kind of players around you.
"At fullback you’ve got time and you’ve got space. It just all falls into place – you’re not rushing, you’re flowing," Vette-Welsh said.
Kelly said that with Saturday off, his players carrying some niggles will recover in time to face a South-East Queensland side stacked with Maroons players – such as Karina Brown, Ali Brigginshaw, Tazmin Gray and Rona Peters expected in the starting 13.
The Harvey Norman Nationals are a selection trial for both the NSW Blues and Queensland Maroons showdown on June 21 at North Sydney Oval for the 2019 Holden State of Origin.