The Parramatta Eels are a chance of creating rugby league history with both their NRL and NRLW teams in next week’s grand finals after the women produced the biggest upset of all time to knock off the unbeaten Roosters.
The Eels headed into the final round of the regular season having not won a game but they are 70 minutes away from the unlikeliest of titles after beating Brisbane in Round 5 and backing it up with an 24-10 win over the previously unbeaten Roosters.
It means Parramatta can become the first club in history to win both the NRLW and NRL titles in the same season, becoming just the second team after the 2018 Roosters to have both the men’s and women’s teams play on grand final day.
“It’s huge, and the fans will love this week,” coach Dean Widders said.
“I know what they’ll love even more, and that’s if we can both get the job done. We won’t just be happy to be there, especially after the trek we’ve had, and I can guarantee the men’s team won’t be happy to just be there.”
It sets up a showdown with the Knights next week in a battle between the NRLW’s two expansion teams.
The Knights controversially beat them earlier in the year, but Parramatta has improved immensely since then with halves Ash Quinlan and Tayla Preston looking better with each game.
They both scored tries in Sunday’s win and terrorised the opposition back three with towering bombs that were constantly allowed to bounce, with one eventually leading to a Rikeya Horne try that put the result beyond doubt.
“To see our boys do it and do it the way they did it helped us in a way with striving to be there and having a carrot there dangling in front of our eyes,” Simaima Taufa said.
“We’re going to represent western Sydney, and we’re going to do it loud and proud.”
This appeared to be a straightforward path to another premiership for a Roosters side playing some of the best footy ever seen in the NRLW.
They headed into Sunday’s semi-final averaging more than 30 points per game but could only manage a solitary try in the opening 65 minutes that came off a fortuitous bounce.
The usually clinical ball movement was slightly off and they butchered several golden opportunities to score, with Leianne Tufuga and Isabelle Kelly dropping the ball cold with the line wide open either side of half-time.
Even when they did get over the line, Parramatta’s desperate defence was always on hand to repel them with Gayle Broughton doing an incredible job to deny Shawden Burton a certain try.
“Anything that could go wrong, did out there,” coach John Strange said.
“We were very poor.”
TAUFA IN TROUBLE
The Eels will be hoping to avoid the traditional grand final week drama after inspirational leader Simaima Taufa was placed on report for a hip-drop tackle on Sarah Togatuki.
Ironically, Togatuki had to beat a charge to play in last season’s grand final, but Parramatta hope they won’t have to go that far this time around.
The Eels can’t afford to lose Taufa who has made more metres and tackles than any Parramatta player this season.
She led from the front again with 133 metres and 33 tackles, while fellow middle forward Kennedy Cherrington was equally outstanding after she was rocked by a textbook tackle from Olivia Kernick in the second half.
KNIGHTS GO FROM SPOON TO GRAND FINAL
Knights officials should give raises to everyone in the NRLW recruitment team after a number of high-profile purchases helped Newcastle reach the grand final with a 30-6 win over the Dragons.
This is a team that claimed the wooden spoon and didn’t win a game in its inaugural season, but they are into the decider just a few months later thanks to some special performances by former Broncos Millie Boyle and Tamika Upton.
The pair brought plenty of premiership experience to the Hunter, and it showed on Sunday with Boyle leading Newcastle’s formidable pack to a huge win in the middle.
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The representative star made 161 metres and scored one of the great individual tries in NRLW history when she skittled NSW teammates Emma Tonegato and Keeley Davis with a couple of brutal fends on her way to the line.
She played the entire first half as temperatures nudged 30 degrees and earned a handy rest late in the game as her teammates piled on the points.
“Quite possibly the best performance I’ve seen from a skipper in a very long time,” Knights coach Ronald Griffiths said. “The coach’s box went up (when she scored). We were in raptures.”
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TAMIKA’S STOCKS GO UPTON
All the talk this season has been on the battle between Emma Tonegato and Sam Bremner for the Jillaroos fullback spot at the World Cup.
And while both of them should be on the plane to England, Aussie selectors better make room for Upton after she stole the show on Sunday.
Making her return from a calf injury, Upton was in the thick of it early when she was collected high by Elsie Albert.
But she shook that off and punished a Tonegato error to score a few plays later off a lovely inside ball by teen sensation Jesse Southwell.
Upton had some enormous runs on her way to 166 metres and eight tackle busts, and it was fitting that the speedy fullback blitzed the Dragons through the middle to seal the win and become the equal-leading try-scorer in NRLW history with 11.
Her only blemish was a pass that was intercepted by Teagan Berry for St George Illawarra’s only try, but it was hard to fault given she was trying something enterprising with a bit of space on the outside.
DRAGONS FAIL TO BREATHE FIRE
This wasn’t a good way to end the season.
The Dragons have been one of the most consistent teams of 2022 but they were out of sorts on Sunday, butchering plenty of opportunities close to the line as things fell apart in the second half.
They rely so heavily on Tonegato who had a game-high 211 metres and tried her heart out, but things just didn’t go her way.
She spilled a few kicks early on and couldn’t quite position her wingers, and even when she did beat five defenders to score, the Bunker spotted a tiny knock on to deny what would’ve been a superb solo effort.
“It was a try,” coach Jamie Soward said.
“She still had her finger on it. It’s a try and it changes the game.
“I don’t know why we took three minutes to look at it.”
The concern for the Dragons is that a lot of their players are affiliated with the new teams joining the competition next year, so the pressure will be on to keep their biggest stars, including Tonegato.
“We’ll talk with her and see what she wants to do,” Soward said.
“We’ll let the dust settle and work out who we’re going to sign for next year. Em will probably be first cab off the rank.”
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