Women’s State of Origin: NRLW, New South Wales Blues vs. Queensland Maroons
The 2021 women’s State of Origin match proved a glowing advertisement for rugby league as the two states played out a thriller.
Rugby league has never been more divided on rules, crackdowns and talk of expansion, but the women’s State of Origin reminded us why it is the greatest sport on Earth as Queensland struck late to pip New South Wales 8-6 in a cracking contest on the Sunshine Coast.
Chelsea Lenarduzzi went from zero to hero in the space of minutes as she conceded a penalty to allow the Sky Blues to tie things up at 6-all before she redeemed herself with two massive plays at the death.
The Queensland prop produced a one-on-one steal to rip the ball from Filomina Hanisi, and then earned her side a penalty with less than two minutes remaining when Hanisi pulled her leg as she tried to play the ball.
It was the correct decision but it was a cruel blow for NSW who had been the better side for long stretches of the game as they looked to reclaim the shield after last year’s heartbreak.
They may have started the night as outsiders, but New South Wales were fearless in wet and wild conditions as they shocked their more fancied rivals with expansive ball movement from the opening set in front of 7183 fans.
The visitors defied a gale to dominate the yardage in the first half, running for 595 metres compared to Queensland’s 459 led by Botille Vette-Welsh and Millie Boyle, who was just about the best player on the ground.
But the Sky Blues couldn’t maintain their precision in attack, ending the night with 14 errors and a stack of penalties as ill-discipline cost them what would have been a famous victory.
The Maroons weren’t overly clinical with ball in hand, with last year’s stars Tamika Upton and Tarryn Aiken struggling in the slippery conditions, but their class shone through in the dying stages to make it back-to-back wins on the biggest stage.
Queensland captain Ali Brigginshaw said in her pre-game interview that Destiny Brill “is the hooker of the future”, and as usual, the Maroons star was on the money.
Brill and Brigginshaw played together for the Diehards in the BHP Premiership Grand Final, and they were two of Queensland’s best, with the former scoring on debut with a dart from dummy-half.
The youngster went close earlier only to be held up by three NSW defenders, but she wasn’t going to be denied a second time as the Maroons punished a patch of ill-discipline from their southern rivals.
She looks a star of the future and is certainly one to watch in the NRLW this season.
Triple the footy
Friday night’s contest renewed calls for a three-game women’s Origin series, with NRL experts and fans pleading for more opportunities for women on the representative stage.
“Give them 3 games!!” tweeted cricketer Alyssa Healy.
2Day FM radio personality Mike Christian concurred: “Petition to make women’s #Origin a 3 game series”.
Given the semi-professional nature of women’s rugby league in Australia, a three-game series could prove a logistical challenge for organisers, but there is clearly no shortage of demand for more women’s footy.
It caused a stir last year when Amber Hall was charged for an ugly hair pull that injured Isabelle Kelly, and the worrying trend continued on Friday with replays showing Brigginshaw pulling Kennedy Cherrington’s hair.
The first half incident will likely come under scrutiny, and highlights a concerning tactic that needs to be removed from the game.
One of the biggest regrets from last year’s loss was the fact NSW didn’t give their star outside backs enough ball. It was never going to be an issue this time around, even if the conditions suggested otherwise.
Jess Sergis had a solid game even if she bombed what would have been one of the great Origin tries, but centre partner Isabelle Kelly had no such problems as she stole the show on the left.
Kelly nearly scored with her first touch but wouldn’t be denied with her next carry when she fought through several would-be defenders to grab the opening try after four minutes.
She finished with 142 metres and nine tackle busts.