13/04/2024

NSW Blues will be defending the shield this time around. (Image: NSWRL)

With World Cup last year marking the last time that Women’s Rugby League was televised, the long wait is over when the first game of the Women’s State of Origin series kicks off. The Inner Sanctum will break down everything about this year’s kick-off to the much-anticipated match.

Being hosted the day after the men’s series kicks off in Adelaide, the NRL is expecting large numbers to both the games situated in Sydney and Townsville.

Traditionally, the women’s game only had one Origin game, a do-or-die battle since the series for the women’s game was first established, and now, they will be able to play two games to determine the winner of the series.

Assuming the series is tied, the reigning champions will retain the shield, as it was last year when it was introduced.

With New South Wales retaining the shield in 2022 in Canberra, Queensland will be looking to have total control of the series, starting on the road in Parramatta.

NSW Women

The proven ones

The Blues have selected an experienced squad with a lot of familiar faces in their roles.

The centre combination of captain Isabelle Kelly and Jessica Sergis return to play for their state.

The former player of the series, Kelly will be looking to keep her consistent performances going in the 2023 season as they head into training camp in the newly expanded NRLW. She will hope to prove valuable when the ball is in her hands on the edge when the ball movement sticks on her short side.

Expect Sergis to play the yardage game out of her own half, while also providing strong defensive coverage and attack in smaller spaces against her opponents anywhere on the field.

Emma Tonegato continues her reign at fullback for the Blues, being a support player and a transition pusher when the game breaks open.

Winger Jaime Chapman has a strong all-around game, being able to play effectively without the ball in her hands compared to what she is used to at the club level.

She is also able to create tries and scoring opportunities for herself when the game isn’t feeding through the main playmakers.

The forward pack of Kezie Apps, and Millie Boyle in the middle with Olivia Kernick and Yasmin Clydsdale on the edge being workhorses, with the ball-playing ability. In addition to this, Kennedy Cherrington will look to shift the ball left to right and while working through yardage and being the anchor of their defence puts looks to put Queensland on the back foot again.

Taliah Fuimaono and Shaylee Bent should be big-time x-factor players that make the game unpredictable at the fast pace the game will be played.

Both are able to play as lead runners, decoys and recipients of short ball plays and attack the try line defence from the scrum.

Fresh faces

The new halves combination of Jesse Southwell and Rachael Pearson will bring more to the game than meets the eye.

In her rookie season in the NRLW, Southwell tore apart defences with her unique feel to the game, changing direction and the ability to leading a working-class forward pack to the grand final where they beat the Parramatta Eels. 

Southwell’s craftiness with the ball in her hands, on top of her kicking game in specific spots, which is going to put the back three of Queensland under pressure when switching their defence into vertical offence.

Pearson is a game manager, using the 70 minutes wisely and playing with a calm head on her shoulders.

Leading the team around and controlling the offensive flow for the Blues, this very new combo should be beneficial to each other for the foreseeable future at the State of Origin level.

Brooke Anderson made the squad over Ellie Johnston and Quincy Dodd, showing her work ethic and commitment to being considered one of the best.

Playing five games with the Eels in 2022, Anderson proved to be a strong rotational piece off the bench that can be effective when giving the starters rest, willing to have many carries and gain a lot of field position and territory in her running game.

The bench

Head Coach Kylie Hilder has made some unique selections for the bench which will result in smaller, faster and more mobile players that will act as utilities depending on worst-case injury scenarios.

Compared to Queensland, NSW is playing a small ball, ball-centric offence that outpaces and fatigues the defence.

With a second dummy half at play, the Maroons could out-work the Blues with a specialised positional player on their bench, they can contribute right away in the spark and feel of the offence.

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Queensland Maroons 

New halves combination

The new halves combination marks a new era for the Maroons, with Tarryn Aiken playing with Zahara Temara.

Aiken operates the best at Origin level when Queensland runs out the back, utilising sweeping action plays that give her open space to run.

Ali Brigginshaw did a lot of the creative kicking and made the tougher decisions as the halfback, however with a new halfback, she fixes a major issue the Maroons had last year, while allowing Temara to share the workload with Aiken.

Temara plays a ball-running, game-managing game that allows her to put her teammates in the best spots. 

At the Roosters, the combination she formed in the halves, allowed them to have the early ball to their centres and the ability to shift the ball to their best players.

Inside ball plays with Aiken and Tamika Upton receiving it from them, should be an action they call when they can break down the Blues’ defence.

Last year, Brigginshaw’s kicking game was a letdown and had to rely on the edge play that put the Maroons in corner try situations.

If Temara is able to keep the ball in play around the middle of the field, she should be a crucial player in this series.

Ali Brigginshaw-the surprise lock

Brigginshaw for the Maroons has shifted into a new position, in what is now called the fifth spine position.

As a ball player and a creative game-breaking thinker, Brigginshaw can take the pressure away from the new halves combination.

Experience, leadership and veteran presence as a lock in today’s game in the NRLW is rare, however it is what she brings in spades to the Origin team. When she wants to put a kick over the top in the corner, Queensland can win massively in their half-field sets alone when they build up territory and shift the momentum their way.

Last year, Queensland missed out on a presence that could link with the halves and scatter the Blues’ defence in the last five to ten minutes of the game.

The game of size and physicality

Queensland’s bench is bigger than the Blues’ bench, with two traditional front rowers that can sub in for Shannon Mato and Keilee Joseph around the 15-25 minute mark.

The Blues could lose massively in the middle, which is the battle that teams need to desperately win at any level.

Mato and Joseph are fast and hard runners with each carry they have, with the game thinning out in space and the opportunity of set plays being run, which fits the Maroons system very well.

Common ground

The battle of fullback and dummy half is more crucial than ever this year with Tonegato against Tamika Upton, meanwhile, in the dummy half department, Keeley Davis will matchup against Destiny Brill.

Tonegato plays very similarly to NRL star James Tedesco, best as a support player in transition, combining with the dummy half that can also take carries out of their own half. They can pick up the pace in the play, which that allows her team to shift the momentum and control of the game. 

Upton is an all-around, defensive-minded player, anchoring the defence from behind and attacking small spaces and using her long arms to fend and open up space.

The form of the fullbacks for each team is going to be a huge difference-maker when they are needed the most, in all facets of the series.

Davis and Brill play a similar game out of the dummy half spot, with the on-the-run scoop-up game out of the play-the-ball game and controlling the middle third of the defensive line.

Where NSW could look to differentiate themselves, is the pattern in which they use Davis in to run around the ruck and explore different avenues of the Queensland defence.

Positioning is a crucial part of the game, and if they’re able to get out to either side at their will, their transition and lead-up work playing patiently and conservatively would lead to an unexpected explosion that the Queensland backline outside of Upton would miss. 

Last year, the Maroons went to their left edge attack many times and were able to grab up points at will against a struggling right edge defence.

Caution tape

The biggest takeaway of the City vs Country game played in early May consisted of a lack of space in the offensive formation and less spread-out ball movement in the red zone.

Quincy Dodd’s decision-making as a dummy half in this game led to handovers down the stretch when we usually see the playmakers put in cross-field kicks or come up with a magical play on either side catching the defence on the back foot off guard. 

The City captain had her team with consecutive sets in Country’s half and before the halves could really splice the defence shuffling too much on the inside, City failed to execute attacking the middle third on their try line.

The kicking game could also be wary, with the women trying to capitalise quickly on the high floating under the belly of the ball kicks that impact the game in the opposite way to what we have seen at other levels.

If the ball is placed low, punted down the field into corners and crafted well for an exciting winger or backline player finishes, Origin for the women’s game could accelerate the quality of play in the NRLW faster than we have seen it progress in its short existence.

Watch the Women’s State of Origin Game One on June 1st, 7:45 pm at CommBank Stadium.

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