The NRLW grand final is here, and 10 teams have become the final two ahead of the big day on Sunday.
What was expected to be a grand final that featured the Sydney Roosters was again blindsided by an upset by the Gold Coast Titans, who will be heading to Homebush to take on the defending premiers, Newcastle Knights.
The preliminary final performance was one of the best performances in a win-or-go-home fashion the competition has ever seen, with the Titans having an incredible defensive outing against the Sydney Roosters. Meanwhile, the Knights have been putting up dominating performances during the season and just finished their preliminary final on top against the Brisbane Broncos.
Here are the important components for both teams to win this Sunday.
Plagued by ill-discipline at the beginning of the year, the Newcastle Knights have found their stride in the latter part of the season.
A robust yardage game, bolstered by a productive back five, has propelled the Knights to the top ranks of the NRLW in total run metres this season. Jesse Southwell’s kicking prowess, ranking fourth in total kick meters, has further solidified their competitiveness and dominance in yardage.
Rookie wingers Sheridan Gallagher (averaging 112 run meters) and Jasmin Strange (89 metres) have been consistent standouts, tirelessly working from their own end. Their contributions have become a regular sight, shaping the Knights’ attacking strategies, especially considering the Titans’ strong kick chase in recent weeks.
With the back five and forwards driving forward, Newcastle has had the opportunity to build cohesive combinations across the field due to a relatively injury-free season. Combinations like Georgia Roche and Yasmin Clydesdale on the left edge, alongside the dynamic duo of Southwell and Tamika Upton, have been pivotal in the Knights’ 2023 offensive strategies.
Upton’s role on Sunday will be crucial, reminiscent of the playing style of Dylan Edwards and Ryan Papenhuyzen in the NRL.
Newcastle’s recipe for success lies in its ability to initiate sets effectively, utilizing its productive back five and powerful forward pack to set the stage for Upton’s involvement against a retreating or disjointed defence.
Front-rower Caitlan Johnston, a long-time favourite in the NRLW, showcased her skills last week, demonstrating her prowess as one of the competition’s most destructive ball carriers, averaging 129 running meters per game.
Her adept ballplaying and quick play-the-balls have made a significant impact, especially in crucial moments against teams like the Broncos.
Johnston’s involvement created opportunities as seen in the play against the Broncos. A well-timed pass found Kayla Romanuik setting the stage for Upton’s game-changing play.
Johnston’s positive actions in yardage have the potential to dismantle the opposition’s defence, opening up avenues for the Knights to capitalize.
While the Knights enter the game with confidence and deserving favouritism, they must be patient and not rush their victory. The Titans’ strong defence could turn this match into a grind, making it essential for the Knights to execute their strategies late in the second half to secure the win.
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Gold Coast Titans
In the 2023 NRLW season, the Knights have dazzled with their fast, skilful, and innovative style of play, while the Titans have opted for a more traditional approach.
Having played 10 games, the Titans’ defence ranks third in the NRLW, conceding a mere 12.6 points per game, reminiscent of the strong defensive performance by the Penrith Panthers.
Despite missing experienced five-eighth Taliah Fuimaono, the Titans managed to secure six victories in the regular season, relying heavily on their robust defence. They often clinched games with a margin of just 6.3 points, demonstrating their ability to win tight contests, a testament to their defensive prowess.
The Titans’ success can be credited to their forward pack, featuring outstanding players like Georgia Hale, Jessika Elliston, and Shannon Mato, forming one of the best starting middle trios in the NRLW.
These players have consistently performed at the top of their positions, providing a strong foundation for the Titans’ gameplay.
While the Knights have excelled in yardage, it is the Titans who occupy the second spot in total run meters for the 2023 season. Their physicality and ability to create opportunities through the middle make them a formidable opponent, particularly against a team like Newcastle.
The performance of fullback Evania Pelite will be crucial for the Titans in the upcoming grand final.
In her second NRLW season, Pelite has emerged as one of the standout fullbacks, showcasing her skills both defensively and offensively.
Her strategic positioning on the field and adept ball carrying have been instrumental in the Titans’ defensive efforts and attacking plays.
Pelite’s ability to read the game was evident in a crucial moment against Newcastle in NRLW Round 4. Her positional awareness and smart decision-making allowed her to defuse a threatening situation and set up opportunities for her team.
If Pelite can maintain her defensive positioning and the Titans’ forwards can gain momentum in yardage, it will create openings for players like Lauren Brown and Jaime Chapman to exploit the Knights’ defence.
One of the Titans’ reliable attacking strategies has been involving Chapman in unconventional plays, a tactic that has yielded positive results. While Newcastle might anticipate these moves, effectively defending against them will be a challenge.
For the Titans to secure victory, they must keep the Knights’ score below 20 points, as their own attacking capabilities might not match up in a high-scoring shootout.
However, if they can endure the grind and remain competitive in the latter part of the second half, the Titans have shown they can win in challenging situations.
Their willingness to triumph in challenging circumstances might give them an edge over Newcastle in the upcoming match.
The Newcastle Knights face the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday, October 1, at 3:55pm at Accor Stadium, only on Channel Nine and Nine Now.