The pain is still burning strong for the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks when they meet Wests Tigers on Saturday for the opening round of the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership.
The 2022 Grand Final last July between these two clubs needed two periods of extra time and then golden point to decide a winner.
The result finally came when Tigers halfback Emily Curtain potted a field goal in the 84th minute.
“Obviously it was very disappointing and broke a lot of our hearts,” Sharks hooker and NSW Origin utility, Quincy Dodd, told nswrl.com.au.
“But it was an amazing game to be a part of. That extra time made it such a thrilling match – life-changing as it’s something I’ll never forget.”
NSWRL TV Highlights | Harvey Norman Women's Premiership - Grand Final Highlights
The re-match is set for an 11.30am kick-off on Saturday 4 February at Campbelltown Sports Stadium, but both teams have undergone change since last year’s decider.
The Tigers will be without Sky Blues Origin captain Kezie Apps (Illawarra Steelers) and fullback Tayla Preston (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) while Curtain is still rehabbing an injured knee. The Sharks have lost recently-retired Jillaroos fullback Sam Bremner as well as two international forwards in Holli Wheeler and Kennedy Cherrington (both to Bulldogs).
“I feel like both teams have a fair change-around of players so it will be a different game this weekend, and for the rest of the season,” Dodd said.
“There will now be that bit more of a rivalry between us because of what happened last year.”
NSW City second rower Christian Pio said the mood at the Tigers was upbeat with an influx of young players – some from their Harvey Norman Tarsha Gale Cup side, which finished fourth in 2022.
“The thing about them is they are eager to learn and quick to learn,” Pio said.
“We have our Tarsha Gale side train with us, so the transition is easier into Harvey Norman (NSW Women’s Premiership).
The Tigers have already had two trial games with the North Sydney Bears and Wentworthville Magpies.
“We’ve already started to communicate better on the field on what we need to do at certain stages in matches,” Pio said.
“There’s still stuff to work on but it’s all coming together.”
Head coach Adel Hage has been assistant trainer and coach with the Tigers women for a couple of seasons before taking on the lead role now.
Pio, who played second row in the 2022 Grand Final, is making a switch in positions.
“I’m looking to play in the middle more this year – prop and lock,” Pio said.
“I feel like I can defend well and run the ball well. There’s nothing wrong with being on the edge but I want to be more involved in the game.”
The Sharks also have a new coach in former Jillaroos and Sky Blues captain and assistant Origin coach for the past two years, Ruan Sims.
“Pre-season has been amazing because it’s been a real education with Ru,” Dodd said.
“She actually does a bit of school with us – we all have our notepads at every session. When we’re out on the field she really gets into every drill with us, telling us exactly what she expects.
“She does the activities with us, so we understand how she wants us to play.”
Both clubs also have the added excitement of being issued with a NRLW licence for the 2023 season.
“Definitely a lot of girls are taking that (NRLW) into consideration,” Dodd said.
“Even the staff too – they want to run us like we’re a NRLW side.”
Pio added: “A hundred per cent you see the girls becoming more professional with the NRLW on the horizon this year. It (NRLW contract) is something much closer now to grab onto.”
The 2023 Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership has three new teams – the Bulldogs, Steelers and St George Dragons – in an 11-club competition.
Five games will be played each round, with some being live streamed on NSWRL TV.
The full match schedule is on nswrl.com.au