In case you missed it, the Women’s National Rugby League started with a 10-4 victory to the New Zealand Warriors over the Sydney Roosters. The Kiwis won by overwhelming the Roosters through the middle third. It was a cracker of a game that augurs well for the first year of the women’s competition.
The momentous occasion was supported by a quality game. The Warriors owned the middle third – particularly in the first exchanges. Warriors rake Krystal Rota guided her forwards around the park, causing problems with excellent ball-play. The sizeable Warriors pack worked off her well. Alice Vailea (12 for 92m) and Luisa Gago (8 for 73m) were standouts – particularly the latters’ outside-in line against the grain to score the Warriors second try. But this performance was consistent across the Warriors side, with the pack and the backs all willing to get tough metres in the middle.
Rota’s excellence went beyond finding metres. She created points as well. The first try, scored by Hilda Mariu, was created by Rota taking the short-side and holding the ball long enough to draw two defenders. After the defence collapsed in, all that was left was to catch and pass.
The Warriors matched the work with the ball with some aggressive defence. Annetta Nuuausala was simply devastating in this regard. She tormented the opposition pack until she left the game mid-way through the first half. Her teammates picked up where she left off. This defence was as important in keeping the ball in Warrior hands and the Roosters’ error rate. No better was this displayed than Laura Mariu’s hit on Isabelle Kelly late in the game, which was as bone-rattling as it was game-ending.
This dominance in the middle was all the more notable because it had been the Roosters’ game plan too. It’s understandable this early in the season that sides would be more reliant on simplified football. As they spend more time with each other, movements on the edges and wider will become more fluid.
The Roosters forwards were ably guided around the park by Maddie Studdon, but hey looked best – in the middle at least – when Nita Maynard (5 for 42m) was taking advantage of quick rucks. This platform was best laid by Chloe Caldwell , who had 127m from 15 runs off the bench.
As it was the brick wall that was the Warriors middle pushed the Roosters wider. Studdon worked the edges, and looked for Kelly (14 for 134m) on the left, and Shontelle Showers (13 for 120m) on right. Early ball to the centres was almost always their best movement. Studdon dug into the line on occasion, but more often than not left that work to Kelly and Showers. When Kelly ran across the field late in the first and crashed through on the goal-line it was an impressive individual display.
But the Warriors defence was brutal, and it interrupted even the most promising movements. As the Roosters pushed late in the game to try and equalise, they went wider and wider in search of an opening. But the Warriors shut them down at every turn. And ultimately, that defensive resilience was the difference between the two sides.
The Warriors win wasn’t the most significant part of this game. It’s obvious to anyone with a brain that women’s sport is only just now starting to get the recognition it deserves in this country. Women’s rugby league is another platform that this must occur. It provides a real avenue for a professional career for women that have previously been locked out of this industry by frankly outdated ideas and lack of opportunity. It is unequivocally a good thing that women (eventually) have the same access as men to pursuing sport as a career. This is just the start.
But this career will only survive if the football is of sufficient quality to draw eyes – both in person and on television. The NRL deliberately started small and these first stones laid for the women’s league will be a solid foundation.
This is a great beginning.