The Newcastle Hunter Region Knights women’s tackle team is set to embrace the “underdogs” tag when it faces Riverina in the grand final of the 2021 Country Championships this weekend.
In a major coup for the code – and the local girls, the showdown will also be played as a curtain-raiser to the Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders’ NRL fixture at Wagga Wagga on Saturday 8 May.
But, it’s been a long time between drinks for the squad, which finally accounted for the North Coast Bulldogs 26-12 in the semis almost a month ago.
“That match was originally washed out, then rescheduled,” Knights coach Russell Grigg said.
“So, we’ve had to wait a little bit for the decider.
“It hasn’t dampened the girls’ enthusiasm though.
“They’ve stayed really positive the past eight weeks.
“And, the chance to play in front of a big crowd [at Wagga], and promote the women’s game, is great for them.
“They’re just excited to contest the grand final at the end of the day.
“So, they have done well to stay together while waiting for the match.
“We kept training one night a week with the core group of 21 players.
“However, we regularly changed it up and made it fun, so it’s worked out fine.”
Grigg admitted he was impressed by the way the Knights responded in their gruelling play-off encounter following victories over the Greater Northern Tigers (26-0) at Cessnock and the Northern Rivers Titans (40-6) at Raymond Terrace in the earlier rounds.
“We only led 10-6 at the break, following a very physical first half,” he said.
“Our bench – and Harmony Liddell in particular – really turned things around for us.
“At one stage, she made eight out of 12 tackles from two consecutive sets.
“That was a huge effort.
“But, our interchange – Liddell, Amy Broadhead, Lacey Hickson and Emma Young – is a major key for us.
“They certainly maintain the moment when starting front-rowers Margaret Watson and Sophie Buller come off.
“In fact, all of them [in the side] just get the job done and combine brilliantly as a team.”
Riverina, the defending titleholders, poses as the Knights’ hardest test, according to Grigg.
“We’ve met them once before and they got the best of us,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“However, this is a completely different squad now.
“We’re definitely the underdogs, as they’re also the home side, but we’re embracing the challenge and turning it into a positive.
“We’ll just concentrate on our own plans and try to stay consistent – not let the big occasion get to us.
“The girls are in a good head space [at the moment] and raring to go.
“Plus, they’re keen to prove they’re ready for the next level, too, with talks of a possible Knights’ NRLW outfit in the near future.
“Hopefully, they’ll return to Newcastle with the win.
“And, I’m quietly confident we can do that.”
Newcastle Hunter Region Knights women’s tackle squad: (coach Russell Grigg) Adonijah Afamasaga, Amy Broadhead, Ashlei Grande, Ashley Harvey, Brooke Carter, Caitlin Shoulders, Chantelle Graham, Christa Smith, Emma Young, Georgia Smyth, Harmony Liddell, Janiyah Brown, Jenni Mauli, Jordan Glanville, Pricilla Tremain, Lacey Hickson, Margaret Watson, Nicole Stanfield, Phoebe Desmond, Rihanni Cipta, Robyn Draper, Sophie Buller, Sophie Higgins, Tahlia Goldsmith, Tasmyne Luschwitz, Taylah Gray