Almanac Rugby League – NRLW 2020 Grand Final: Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters – Experience overcomes potential


Father and son combination Ian and Liam Hauser ‘took sides’ to offer coverage of Sunday’s NRLW Grand Final from both sides. Ian (Roosters) thinks he saw the future while Liam (Broncos) luxuriated in the success of the hardened and experienced Broncos. Ian is the Footy Almanac’s rugby league editor and Liam is the author of at least four titles on rugby league.


Brisbane set the standard – a Broncos perspective


It’s certainly been an up-and-down year for a Brisbane Broncos fan, including yours truly. Four weeks ago I wrote an article about the men’s team finishing with the NRL wooden spoon: Just weeks later, I’m basking in the glory of the Broncos winning three straight premierships, albeit in the NRL Women’s competition.


It’s interesting to note that the Broncos men won just three of their 20 matches this season, including two from two before the competition hiatus due to COVID-19, while the Broncos women won all four of their matches.


I know it’s easy to fault the NRLW considering there are only four teams while the competition lasts just four weeks, including the Grand Final. Expansion surely beckons, but three straight premierships is a worthy achievement in any competition. Having won the first two NRLW Grand Finals 34-12 and 30-6, the Broncos had to work hard to achieve their 20-10 victory in the third NRLW decider.


Tarryn Aiken was the star of the first 15 minutes as she set up two tries for a 12-0 lead. From out of nothing, she sliced through and sent Tamika Upton galloping to the uprights. Next, Aiken sent a cleverly timed pass to Amber Hall who charged over for the second try. The underdog Roosters got themselves back in the match as they trailed just 12-10 and threatened to steal the lead as they applied pressure in the shadows of half-time.


The match turned decisively in the second half when a penalty kick from the Roosters didn’t find the sideline. Following a subsequent penalty to Brisbane, Chelsea Lenarduzzi barrelled her way across the tryline. On the back of another penalty to the Broncos, brilliant lead-up work from skipper Ali Brigginshaw sent Tallisha Harden through a yawning gap to score. Regular sharpshooter Meg Ward must have left her kicking boots in the dressing room at half-time as she butchered two kickable conversion attempts in the second half, resulting in a slightly nervous 10-point lead with 15 minutes left. Both teams made plenty of errors in the wet conditions in the last 15 minutes, with the Broncos frittering away their advantage while the Roosters could not grasp their opportunities. Time eventually ran out for the Roosters, thus enabling Brigginshaw to hold the trophy aloft for the third time in as many years. This was Brisbane’s 11th victory in 12 matches in the NRLW’s short history, not to mention that the sole defeat featured a prospective match-winning try that was disallowed in the last two minutes.


Of the three Grand Finals, this year’s was the toughest and most physical yet. Despite Brisbane’s imposing record, the Roosters weren’t overawed or intimidated. Handicapped by the absence of key playmaker Charlotte Caslick, the Roosters welcomed late inclusion Botille Vette-Welsh who was constantly a danger at fullback after battling a hamstring injury. With the likes of Quincy Dodd, Nita Maynard, Hannah Southwell, Sarah Togatuki and Simaima Taufa putting their best foot forward, the Roosters were gallant in defeat and by no means outplayed.


But to the victors go the spoils, even if they did it the hard way. Brigginshaw was one of just four Broncos to play in all three Grand Final wins, while six others played in the latter two deciders. Despite numerous player changes from year to year in an attempt to provide an ‘even’ competition, the Broncos women have developed a strong culture that has enabled them to set the pace. Any critics of the Broncos men should NEVER tar the Broncos women with the same brush. What an insult it would be to bag the Broncos women for the same reasons that the Broncos men have been criticised.


While many teams find it hard to bring in new players who have big shoes to fill, I find it remarkable how well the Broncos women have adjusted. Consider this: the Broncos have made changes at fullback, centre, five-eighth, hooker and the front-row since winning the inaugural NRLW decider two years ago. The departures of experienced campaigners Chelsea Baker, Heather Ballinger and Stephanie Hancock left a huge hole, only for Tamika Upton, Millie Boyle and Annette Brander to fill the void superbly. After Kimiori Nati scored three tries in the 2018 Grand Final, her departure led to Raecene McGregor making the five-eighth position her own. Brittany Breayley was superb at dummy-half in 2018 before Lavinia Gould took over in 2019, only to get injured this year. Never mind, utility player and former rugby 7s identity Lauren Brown stepped into the role. Brown’s Grand Final appearance ended early after she copped a hefty hit, but not before her deft work from dummy-half set up Lenarduzzi’s try.


Amber Hall was a worthy Player of the Grand Final recipient, although several of her teammates must have also come into contention. Hall, Lenarduzzi and Brander provided muscle and grunt in the forwards, while Aiken and Brigginshaw did well as they alternated between lock and halfback. It was unfortunate that Aiken blotted her copybook when she grabbed an opponent’s hair, which Hall had done in Round Two to earn a one-match suspension. The biggest wrap must go to Brigginshaw, who won the Dally M Medal for Player of the Year and was under ample pressure in the decider. As if the expectation wasn’t big enough, given her personal and team success in the past two years, Brigginshaw faced an acid test as defenders often rushed up to harass her. Brigginshaw therefore didn’t have things her way but she was far from flustered. Like Cameron Smith in the NRL, Brigginshaw’s leadership and settling influence were second to none in the NRLW. A class act in more ways than one. Brigginshaw is by far the best leader at the Broncos, regardless of gender, and regardless of on-field or off-field matters. Victory in the women’s State of Origin is something that has eluded Brigginshaw and her Queensland teammates so far, meaning this will be Brigginshaw’s next acid test. (Stay tuned for this match at the Sunshine Coast on November 13.)


Meanwhile, we’ll wait to see if the NRLW expands next year, in terms of more games and more teams. The NRLW is here to stay, with the Broncos leading the way thus far.



A glimpse of the future – a Roosters perspective


After finishing last in 2019, there wasn’t much else the Roosters could do in 2020 but improve. And improve they did, scoring an upset win over the Dragons in Round 1, then getting the better of the Warriors in Round 2. A new self-belief, a classy pair of halves and the addition of rugby convert Charlotte Caslick suggested an opportunity to take on the all-conquering Brisbane Broncos in Round 3 and then the Grand Final for which both sides had already qualified. The loss of Caslick to a season-ending injury was a downer; Simaima Taufa and Hannah Southwell were rested to keep them fresh for the Grand Final.


The Roosters lost no friends in an honourable loss to an almost full-strength Brisbane in Round 3. What they discovered was that Brisbane could be a bit vulnerable in defence out wide if the ball moved across field quickly. And although regarded as having a lesser pack of forwards, the Sydney girls made it as a challenge to take the northerners on through the middle.


Leading into the Grand Final, Brisbane tried to paint the Roosters as favourites on the basis of the Sydney team’s vast improvement in 2020. Coming from a team that had lost only once in11 NRLW outings, that was a bit rich! A wet day always narrows the odds so the game was set up to be very competitive.


After a couple of strong sets first up, the Roosters conceded possession and, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, found themselves down 12-0, Brisbane’s Tarryn Aiken shredding them on the defensive right edge leading to tries to the rangy Tamika Upton and the bullocking Amber Hall. Lesser teams would have buckled in the face of the Brisbane juggernaut. A glut of possession and some strong running, including a sparkling burst by Botille Vette-Welsh and strong ruck work by Sarah Togatuki, saw the Roosters claw back to 12-10 by the break after tries to a determined Yasmin Meakes and the cheeky Quincy Dodd. As the half closed, it was Brisbane looking for a break, a breather and a chance to regroup. Game very much on! The pace and energy of the half, especially the physicality of the forward battle, also suggested that it might turn into a battle of the fittest.


The second half simply has to be regarded as one of lost opportunities for the Roosters. A deficit of 2 quickly became 10 after a rampaging Chelsea Lenarduzzi crashed over before a sweetly timed Ali Brigginshaw pass put ex-Rooster Tallisha Harden through a gap and over the line untouched. Only two missed conversions by the usually reliable Meg Ward kept the Roosters in the game. In the battle of the packs, the Roosters at least held their own with their Broncos counterparts although I had the impression that the Broncos players were more versatile and creative with the ball.


Much of the remainder of the game seemed to be the Roosters on the attack but unable to break through stern Brisbane defence. But the Roosters were also their own worst enemy with a series of dropped balls, a penalty that failed to find touch and several poor options towards the end of sets. They almost tried too hard and, at times, appeared to become frustrated that they just couldn’t find that last play. It seemed to be a case of a well-drilled team that knows how to win against a rising team that wants to learn how but has yet to find the mental strength and requisite level of skills to achieve victory. But if the Roosters can hold their present squad, get Caslick back on the field and learn from the experience, we saw a glimpse of the future on Sunday afternoon.


Sydney were well served by Vette-Welsh, Corban McGregor and Melanie Howard in the backs while Zahara Temara tried her heart out. Taufa, Togatuki,and Hannah Southwell gave their all up front, the latter particularly strong in defence. Quincy Dodd and Kennedy Cherrington did well off the bench.


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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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