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Soliola stars as Dogs earn place in Grand Final

A Monalisa Soliola double has helped the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs into the 2023 Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership Grand Final in their return season.

The Bulldogs, in their first NSW Women's Premiership season since 2019, earned the victory in fine style with a 16-8 Semi-final win over the Illawarra Steelers Leichhardt Oval.

They exhibited plenty of grit after losing props Holli Wheeler (knee) and Angelina Teakaraanga Katoa (ankle), reducing them to 15 players for most of the second half.

They will now have to patch themselves up to face Mounties in next Saturday’s (29 April) Grand Final after they beat Minor Premiers North Sydney 18-16, in an equally tough contest in the earlier Semi-final.

“I’m proud of the girls because Holli has been our best player by a country mile, so to lose her and Ange and still come home with a win is massive,” said coach Craig Sandercock.

“They just showed that Bulldogs grit and determination. And I thought Monalisa really stood up in that second 35 minutes and really showed a what a terrific player she is.”

Soliola scored in the 38th and 59th minutes, taking a simple one-off-the-ruck pass and crashing through tacklers.

It meant a lot to both teams trying to make the decider in their first year. That determination led to some angst between players with several scuffles breaking out.

The Steelers won the penalty count 5-4 but it was one of the few statistics that went their way. Handling errors plagued them all afternoon.

“There was an essence of want and urgency that made them push things they wouldn’t necessarily push,” said Steelers coach Alicia-Kate Hawke.

“In terms of our completion rate, we’ve been up and down with that all season. So with a team that has such power like the Bulldogs you can’t win off poor set completions.

“Even after letting in that first try early in the second half we felt like we were breaking them down. But time just ran away from us,” Hawke said.

“The girls and their effort has been amazing to create such a culture in this Illawarra club. I’m super proud of that but what hurts most is that we know what could have been if we’d played our best footy.”

The match was level at 4-4 when the halftime whistle sounded.

Wingers Sarachen Oliver (Bulldogs) and Shakiah Tungai (Steelers) put points on the board early.

Soliola’s first try early in the second half and then a penalty to Tayla Preston put the Bulldogs out to 10-4.

Steelers halfback Rachael Pearson sent a low-trajectory kick to the right-hand corner in the 53rd minute, which winger Olivia Vale collected off one bounce  to edge within two points (10-8).

But Soliola’s second four-pointer broke the Steelers hearts and despite several attacking raids upfield they couldn’t finish off those moves.

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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