02/03/2024

Two blockbuster NRLW finals game back to back kick off this Sunday. (Image: @NRLW - Twitter)

The NRLW 2022 regular season finished last week and the finals are about to kick off on Sunday with the Newcastle Knights taking on the St George Illawarra Dragons, while the Sydney Roosters take on the Parramatta Eels.

With these four teams at their best, both matches should be high-quality with a lot of set-for-set action. At their best, here is how each team can a play strong game to be able to put up a contest against their opponents.

Newcastle Knights

After getting Tamika Upton, Millie Boyle, and Jesse Southwell, these three players have opened up the Knight’s offence in a whole new light.

The forward pack with the addition of Boyle has turned into a system of playing both sides of the ball, getting field position for the spine to create plays, and defensively holding down the line to not let their opposition score.

Southwell’s timely plays and kicking game allows the Knights to put points on the board quickly and play more smoothly offensively than they did in the 2021 season.

What the Knights need to do more of against the Dragons is complete their sets.

In the regular season, they were 5th in set completion percentage with 72 per cent, only being in front of the Gold Coast Titans.

Completing sets in the Dragons’ half of the field will set a strong foundation considering they make a lot of post-contact metres and metres across the field.

With Tamika Upton averaging 196 running metres per game in the three games she played this season, the Dragons need to have a strong defensive presence, especially at the start of the game when Upton is running around the back or from kick returns.

Upton’s in-line carrying-the-ball style is also going to be needed when the Knights need to mix up their plays. Upton’s speed and take-off acceleration are hard to defend, especially when the defence does not move the lineup.

If they can force the Dragons to make a lot of tackles, especially for stretches of consecutive sets, the Knights could tire out the defenders and create space and the advantage on either side of the Dragons’ defence, particular around the edge.

St George Illawarra Dragons 

The Dragons lost to the Knights last week and will need to workshop their offence and defensive shifts.

When the Dragons scored last week, they included a lot of ball movement, letting everyone get a touch of the ball, and being able to adapt to how the Knights’ edge defenders were guarding their pace and space offence.

If the Dragons can get their middle forwards to offload the ball and get the dummy halves running out when they pick up the ball from the play-the-ball, they can speed the game up.

The Knights prefer playing with controllable pace, and when the Dragons’ attack convinces the defenders to move in the field quickly, that is where the defenders are easily picked apart.

Defensively, St George Illawarra conceded the fourth most points this season, conceding 104 points, averaging just over 20 points conceded per game.

In their last encounter, the Knights took advantage of the Dragons playing aggressively on the short side where the ball was. Olivia Higgins and Jessica Gentle’s tries were a great example of where they got beat last week.

The Dragons’ try-line defence was poor. Moving up and having a lot of space between each defender allowed the Knights’ dummy halves to score and create confidence and reward themselves. 

The Dragons need to be in control offensively.

With Rachael Pearson’s kicking game and Emma Tonegato’s all-around play, the Dragons are going to need those two players to have great games to put them in a comfortable position against a team that has shown they can play defence and keep the Dragons from making good field position.

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Sydney Roosters

The Roosters are the best attacking and defensive team in the competition.

The Roosters only conceded 58 points this season (almost 12 points per game). The Eels will have to maximise their time in the Roosters’ half when the Roosters are on the back foot.

The understanding of their star players’ skill sets allows the spine to put their centres Jessica Sergis and Isabelle Kelly in the best spots to score and create opportunities for points. That also allows Sam Bremner to play out the back and overload the appropriate edge to create an advantage – three on two or two on one play depending on where they move the ball.

When they played the Eels at the beginning of the season, the Roosters were able to shift to each edge and allow Sam Bremner to play out the back and create an overload on the Eels defenders for points time and time again.

Towards the middle and back half of the season, Destiny Brill executed her role as dummy half to perfection for the Roosters, being able to take off from playing the ball or even spark movement from the defence.

With the ball movement heading Raecene McGregor’s (nine try assists this season) way very often, the Roosters were at their best when she threaded the needle in the right spot at the right time.

Parramatta Eels

The Eels conceded the fifth amount of points against, conceding 106 points this season (21 per game). They repeatedly got beat on their try line and had to shift their defensive line in the field instead of spacing out.

When they played the Roosters in the first round, the Eels let in three Roosters tries in the first twenty minutes before scoring twice in four minutes.

The Eels need to shift the ball continuously and make the Roosters’ defence on their try line move up earlier than they should when they are playing in the Roosters’ half of the field.

Gayle Broughton has been one of the most consistent performers for the Eels with her ability to move the ball, especially when they open up space and play from the 50-metre line early in the tackle count.

The Eels centres, especially Tiana Penitani, need to have a strong running game on all areas of the field and if she can connect with the spine and find a pocket of the Roosters’ defence to run through, the Roosters are going to have a hard time to catch up with her speed.

The Eels’ forward pack need to bring a lot of physicality and intensity at the start of the game.

Against the Broncos last week, Kennedy Cherrington and Simaima Taufa led the forward pack with their running game, grinding post-contact metres.

Cherrington had 25 runs for 260 metres and five tackle breaks, along with the game-sealing try.

Taufa had 28 runs for 307 runs with six tackle breaks, two offloads and a try as well.

The Eels need to get the forwards to get involved early and build running metres to help the spine set the attacking foundation.

When the Eels are offloading the ball and shifting it to their playmakers, they are one of the best-attacking teams in the competition.

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