This article was first written for NRL.com.
If there were any doubts about whether the Holden Women’s Premiership would be a success, surely the opening round silenced all that.
The NRLW arrived with a bang last weekend.
More than 14,000 people headed out to ANZ Stadium and Suncorp Stadium to watch the two opening games and the combined television audience cracked the 500,000 barrier.
The two games were played at a high level and if the quality remains the focus, then the fans will follow.
So what did we learn from round one?
The Warriors are a force to be reckoned with
Very few people predicted the Warriors would beat the Roosters in the opening game.
The Roosters went into the competition as favourites and when you look at their squad you can see why. They are stacked with Australian Jillaroos, NSW and Queensland representatives like Isabelle Kelly, Simaima Taufa, Maddie Studdon and Ruan Sims
Many of these women have played together in the green and gold, so I think there was an assumption that the combinations would come together.
On the other side of the coin, the Warriors were very much an unknown quantity. But we all underestimated them at our peril as 18 of the 21 women in the squad are past or present Kiwi Ferns. Additionally, most of these women play together in the New Zealand local competition so are very used to each other’s style of play.
There were fears about their fitness across the 60 minutes, but they dominated from start to finish and I dare say Zahara Temara is still having nightmares about Annetta Nuuausala after the hit she put on her early in the first half.
Don’t underestimate the importance of trials
Can you guess which two teams played trials?
It was the Warriors and the Broncos and it absolutely showed.
The Roosters looked a bit overawed by the occasion and their combinations looked rusty. This is unsurprising given how short the “pre-season” was and that the team had not had the opportunity for a practice go.
Similarly, St George Illawarra struggled against Brisbane, who had played a trial against the Papua New Guinea Orchids the previous week. The Dragons’ situation was not helped by the fact they lost Talesha Quinn and Raecene McGregor prior to kick-off, but they simply could not counter the attacking prowess of Brisbane halves pairing – Ali Brigginshaw and Kimiora Nati, who were well supported by hooker Brittany Breayley and fullback Chelsea Baker.
Fans loved it!
I have to be honest – when it comes to women’s sport, there is often criticism from some parts of the community about its quality. There are often jibes about the lack of skill and the differences compared to the men’s versions.
I did not see any of this on the weekend. Instead, social media lit up with comments about certain players and their skills – the skill of Isabelle Kelly, the playmaking ability of Ali Brigginshaw and the impact of Chloe Caldwell – and about how enjoyable both games were on the weekend.
There were little girls yelling out “Go Maddie” at the Roosters-Warriors game and I saw some photos of a couple of signs for Brigginshaw at the game on Sunday.
One of my favourite things this week has been hearing my favourite podcasts and seeing my go-to publications covering the women’s game.
The women who play rugby league have waited so long for this and it’s been wonderful to see fans embrace them so quickly.
If we think about a normal rugby league season, it is broken up into parts – the beginning when the teams are finding their feet, then the teams get into the grind, are then interrupted by State of Origin and representative footy and then you have the run to the finals.
Because the NRLW is so compressed into a month-long competition, after this weekend there is only one more regular round before the grand final on 30 September.
For the two teams yet to register wins, to have any hope of playing in the decider, they must win this weekend.
For the Roosters, they face stiff opposition in the Broncos. They will be boosted by the return of Ruan Sims and I’m confident the combinations will look far more polished after having a run last weekend.
But there’s no doubt the Broncos are the in form team of the competition and will be looking to cement their position at the top of the ladder by making it two wins in a row.
St George Illawarra also have a big test in front of them, with the Warriors coming off their win against the Roosters. Hopefully, Quinn will be cleared by the army to play this weekend and Jess Sergis will pass her concussion test.
For the Dragons to win, they will need to look to the speedsters like Sergis and Sammy Bremner to get around the bigger Warriors pack.
My tips? The Broncos by 14 points and the Warriors by 10 points.
I’m never too confident with my tips but I’m certain the games will be even better than last weekend and hopefully they will be played in front of even bigger crowds at Allianz Stadium and ANZ Stadium.