The first two weeks of the NRLW season have commenced and there has been a lot to watch within the beginning act of the 2022 season.
From the stardom of Knights’ teenage halfback Jesse Southwell to the Broncos’ downfall and the Grand finalists looking hard to beat once again, the competition is getting better than ever and more hotly contested than once imagined.
Here is a look at how each team shapes up after the first two weeks of the five-round regular season.
After winning multiple premierships and losing in the semi-finals this past season, it did not look like the Brisbane Broncos were going to struggle as much as they have in the first two games.
Although they did lose two-star players Tamika Upton and Millie Boyle to the Newcastle Knights, the Brisbane squad still looked like they could compete for the Grand Final and more premierships.
Their loss to the Newcastle Knights to begin their season showed how limited their attack is outside of the plays Ali Brigginshaw was creating when they were in the Knights’ half.
The use of their fullback in both games has been poor, trying to play in the line and create outnumbering situations that favour them on the edge with a cut-out or a short ball pass to get through the line and get space with an open field.
Jaime Chapman who signed from the St George Dragons has shown her speed as well as her ability to play off-the-ball and to create the spine and ball movement which in turn creates opportunities for her to score.
The Broncos have not used her at the fullback spot in these ways, which is part of why the Broncos have struggled so far this season.
Another reason is the lack of impact of the forward pack to the game. Teams like the Knights and Roosters use their forwards to make the game easier for their spine players, running up the middle and controlling the ruck defensively.
The loss of Boyle to start and control the games through the middle has been something they have also incredibly missed this season.
Defensively, their edge defence has been poor, possibly due to their former player, Upton being able to recover when teams would make through the line at their edge players.
With a great defensive fullback as well as being operated offensively, the Broncos have had much success and with their current fullbacks they have used in the first two games, the weaknesses in their system and how they operate have been exposed heavily.
Five-eighth Tarryn Aiken has shown promising signs offensively, especially in adding a new dynamic to their struggling offence. Against the Roosters, she scored two tries and showed how she can operate as a running six in today’s game.
With shapes and lines that can just create the space for her to run through and not have to play a 2-on-1 in the open field, ball movement from the whole team from right to left has to be a key in their offence, especially around the 50-metre line.
This week the Broncos play against the Titans, who have shown promising signs but have not executed in key moments of games.
If the Broncos can start the game on their terms and create a left-edge offence with ball movement and the forward pack controlling the intensity and physicality, they can win their first game of the season.
The Parramatta Eels Women’s team have lost their first two games, however, with their performance against the Dragons, there is a lot of potential to be unlocked.
Their new signing Gayle Broughton has been outstanding in her first two games, being able to gain post contact metres and field position from kick returns, show her lethal step and be able to thread the needle with short-ball passes. She has also been a support player when they open up space breaking through the line.
The Eels’ offensive identity has been with their ball movement and their defensive identity built around having a fast line speed, especially right away after they have kicked down the field.
The Eels having two different halves pairings in two weeks was questionable, however, the Eels have found their combo for the foreseeable future with Ash Quinlan at halfback and Tayla Preston at five-eighth.
Where the Eels need to improve is with conceding cheap penalties and their high error count, especially when they have made field position with the ball or have put in a good kick that keeps their opponents in the back half for consecutive tackles.
The Eels have a difficult run for the rest of the season, as they have to play the Knights, Titans and Broncos as away from home.
St George Dragons
The Dragons are continuing to show how good they are against the Titans and Eels to start the season.
Jamie Soward’s footy-minded offensive principles have translated exceptionally well in this specific league.
The game against the Eels came down to two plays on their left edge. One was from a scrum play and the other being a last-tackle effort moving the ball from right to left to clinch the victory against the Eels, who the back half of the first half performance sparked what would be a great game.
Emma Tonegato’s play out the back with space and flexibility opens up the Dragons’ offence to be anything it wants to be, especially when the ball goes to their left edge on the attack.
The Dragons’ ability to have offensive creativity and play in the red zone as well as from their own 40-metre line makes them defensively hard to neutralise.
The rest of the season will be interesting to see how they go against the Roosters in the Grand Final rematch at Allianz Stadium and against a thriving Knights team to finish the season off that so far.
The win over the Eels saw multiple Dragons players come off with injuries and if any of them have long-term injuries, the Dragons’ depth will be a concern, which is something that has been building over the last couple of seasons.
The Newcastle Knights have started the 2022 season undefeated in their first two games after being winless last season.
Their offensive game plan is simple, allowing their forward pack to get them field position and territory through the middle of the defensive line and control around the ruck to allow the spine to combine together to move the ball side to side.
Millie Boyle leads the forward pack and is showing why she is one of the best front-rowers in the game, while Tamika Upton is showing why she is one of the more under-appreciated players in the NRLW with her ability to guide their defence.
These two players, as well as the rise of teenage star Jesse Southwell, have been three reasons the Knights are playing so well currently.
Jesse Southwell’s ability to put a step on her defender and create opportunities for herself, as well as control the game with her organisational and game management skills has been a massive step in the right direction for the Knights to take the next leap.
Although they are red hot right now, they have to play the Eels this week, who although have lost both games to start the new season, competed very closely with both grand final teams from last season for large periods of the game and have also taken a leap offensively with their ball movement and short-ball edge play.
They have the grand finalists from last season after the Eels, which will be tough games and will be a test of how good they have been this season compared to the past season.
The defending premiership winners are continuing to play high-quality footy this season.
This time last season, they lost their first two games before going all the way the rest of the season.
In the 2022 season, they are starting on a high note and look like the favourites to repeat their premiership-winning.
The Roosters’ offence through their spine, particularly in dummy half Destiny Brill and recently returned fullback Sam Bremner, impact the game in their own ways and have shown their ability to contribute to a lot of the scoring the Roosters have displayed these first two games of the 2022 season.
The Roosters moving the ball side to side with Sam Bremner moving off-the-ball to then create 3-on-2 plays and outnumbering edge defensive coverages have been very strong plays both the Eels and Broncos failed to counter.
Defensively, they have shown what really put them on the top in their finals campaign recently, with their ability to grit and grind through a 70-minute game time and time again, and have only allowed their opponents so far to score 24 points combined these first two weeks.
For perspective, the Knights have allowed 26 points and the Dragons have allowed 22 points, which shows how close the competition is getting this campaign.
The Roosters have the Dragons at the new-look Allianz Stadium this week before they play the new-look Newcastle Knights squad and an experienced Titans squad to finish the regular season.
Gold Coast Titans
The Titans are the most experienced team heading into the 2022 campaign and have shown their improvement.
Although they have lost both games with cheap errors and poor discipline in stretches of games costing them, especially their latest clash with the Newcastle Knights team, only losing 16-12.
Their middle forwards close to the try line is hard to stop, leading the way is Stephanie Hancock, scoring three tries in her first two games in the 2022 campaign all in a similar fashion.
When the Titans play on the short-side, poor reads have been executed and as a result, they concede points.
Right edge defences are usually every team’s weakness, however, the Dragons and Knights had easy access to that side when the Titans are defending in these first two weeks to start the new season.
The Titans’ spine needs to combine more often and move the ball left-to-right and vice versa to keep defences on the edge after their forwards run up the middle of the ruck. This is similar to how their opponent Newcastle Knights operated against them this past weekend.
The Titans play the Brisbane Broncos on the road this week, who have struggled more than expected before they play the Parramatta Eels back at home. This takes place before the Central Coast Stadium triple-header matchup with the Roosters in the last regular season round of the 2022 campaign.
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