By fulfilling their NRLW premiership destiny, the Roosters are living history
Posted On April 10, 2022
Because the NRLW is still so new, history is being made all the time and there’s a lot of firsts: the first standalone grand final, for example, or the first season of expansion, which are important milestones for an avenue of the sport that is still developing.
However, the history created by the Roosters the moment the siren sounded in the grand final at Redcliffe is different: It’s the living history, the one that people keep alive through the stories they tell about what they remember, and this was a game to be remembered.
It was the competition’s first arm-wrestle of a grand final. Each of Brisbane’s triumphs had some sparkling footy from the Broncos, but none of those grand finals were true contests. The Queenslanders were too good for everyone else.
This was different. It was rugby league played as a head-on car crash, as grand finals can be sometimes.
Madison Bartlett’s try in the opening minutes — which came on the very first play the Dragons had possession — was a blistering opening salvo that turned out to be a red herring.
It raised the possibility that the Roosters had played their last wild card last week in their comeback win over Brisbane.
But John Strange’s side are never dead. Since the start of the season — and even when they looked gone after only sneaking into the finals on for and against with more losses than wins — they felt they were destined to win the premiership and, when it comes to grand finals, destiny is something players create for themselves.
“I was really confident. If we got the opportunity to play in the semis that they would do what they’ve done to the Broncos and the Dragons, who have been really good sides in this competition and really consistent,” Strange said.
“That belief was there the whole time.”
That’s likely why they stayed the course through the first half, when scramble defence from the Dragons denied them a try on five separate occasions.
Chances were created, but not finished, and that’s the kind of thing that can get into a team’s head. It’s not easy to trust the plan when it’s not working.
Instead, the Roosters stayed on the job, time and again, until the dam finally broke with tries in the second half — first to Yasmin Meakes, from short-range, then a wonderful effort to Isabelle Kelly and finally through Olivia Higgins in the shadows of full-time.
The Dragons attack never got better than it did on their very first touch. They had chances, and plenty of them, but halves Taliah Fuimaono and Rachael Pearson could not find the killer blow.
Their attack has been so good this year and, when Keeley Davis has switched to lock, they have moved the ball as well as any team in the league. But their class deserted them when they needed it most.
“We probably didn’t execute how we wanted to with the ball,” said coach Jamie Soward. “After scoring the early try, we should have put the foot down.
“The Roosters were a better team. They played smarter. They ran harder. They won the title, deservedly.
“I’m not going to whinge about that. We didn’t save our best for last.
“It was hot out there, the girls were gassed and there were times they were just holding on.
“That’s a lesson for me, as a coach, to maybe get my changes right or the game plan of how we get out of that.
“At half-time, I thought we’d defended really well but I was concerned with our lack of attention to detail on the attacking side of the ball, which probably bit us in the butt towards the end.”
The Roosters’ physicality played a major part in securing the win and, given Sarah Togatuki set the tone on that front, and she was a deserved winner of the Karyn Murphy Medal as the player of the match.
Emma Tonegato, who created the Dragons sole try, was the best of the beaten and offers a glimpse into where the game could be headed.
Due to her days as a full-time professional on the rugby sevens circuit, the Dragons fullback plays like somebody from the future who has been transported back in time.
Her speed, her ability to change direction and her class as a ball-player are testament to the strides the women’s game can make as it edges closer to full-time professionalism.
Steps are being made to get to that point. Part of the reason the standard of play in the NRLW’s fourth season has been so high is because the competition has been around longer. Players have more time to learn, train and hone their skills on the field.
There’s a reason established players such as Davis and McGregor have had the best season of their careers and it is the same reason rookies such as Pearson and Olivia Kernick have been so effective in their maiden campaigns.
As good as this season was, there are still so many more levels to which the women’s game can rise.
More than any other avenue of the sport, women’s rugby league is caught in a constant conversation about the future.
Everything that happens is mixed up with what could happen, where the game can go, where it might be in one year, five years, 10 years’ time.
New powers will rise, as the Roosters and Dragons did this year.
The future will be everything we can imagine and, with another season this year — plus expansion on the line in 2023 and 2024 — that future will soon be upon us.
A new generation of players will fill out the rosters and, one day, there will be players who do not remember a time without NRLW.
But they will remember this, the day the women’s game stood alone in the spotlight, and the Roosters completed their resurrection.
After the game, the Roosters abandoned the stuffiness of the changing rooms to celebrate on the Dolphins Stadium turf, basking in the setting sun and in the victory that looked so unlikely.
The structures of the league mean this team will never be together again — players will be lost to other clubs, and what the Tricolours have found in recent weeks is the special thing that does not last.
They belong to the ages now. This side will be together for as long as we remember them, because premierships like this are the things that live forever.