Women’s State of Origin 2022 shapes as most influential in series’ short history
There are not too many places more unwelcoming than Canberra’s GIO Stadium in the middle of winter. If the NSW Blues hope to reverse the trend of Queensland’s upper hand in the women’s State of Origin over the past two years, they have found the best possible place to do so.
For Queenslanders who think anything below 20C is a bit nippy and might require a coat and scarf, the icy depths of a concrete bowl in Bruce with no protection from the elements presents the ultimate challenge. The stadium is also considerably bigger than previous women’s Origin venues – a 25,000-capacity compared to 12,000 at Sunshine Coast Stadium and 10,000 at North Sydney Oval. With the announcement last week that the Canberra Raiders will join an expanded NRLW competition in 2023, there is hope that this anticipation could coax Canberrans out of their warm houses and into GIO Stadium to give the Blues an extra edge in the contest.
A win in this match has also increased in importance since the announcement that next year’s series will jump from one game to two. This means that in the fairly likely event of a tied series, the shield will be awarded to the previous year’s winner, providing a significant grasp on the balance of power to the winner of this year’s standalone match.
With the chance to forge a legacy combined with the memories of the fiery finish to last year’s game – when Queensland walked away with an 8-6 win after a penalty in the dying minutes – this is shaping up to be the most influential women’s Origin match in its short history.
This series also sees the Origin debuts of two Olympic gold medalists in Evania Pelite (Queensland) and Emma Tonegato (NSW). Tonegato was a revelation for the St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRLW season, with speed, timing and determination that redefined the fullback position. The joint Dally M winner made the tackle of the year on Roosters centre – and now Blues teammate – Jessica Sergis in a desperate try-saving effort in round five and was instrumental in catapulting the Dragons into the grand final when most experts had all but written them off before the start of the season.
Tonegato will also have plenty of established connections to draw on, with Dragons teammates including Rachael Pearson (half back), Keeley Davis (hooker) and captain Kezie Apps (second row) playing alongside her for NSW. The other Dally M recipient – prop Millie Boyle – will also line up for the Blues, bringing with her the kind of power that saw her average 18 hit ups and 198 running metres across her five games this NRLW season. It is a formidable line up and coach Kylie Hilder will be confident her team has the talent to secure the win.
Hilder herself has only recently retired from an on-field role – last turning out for the Blues in the 2020 loss to Queensland at the age of 44. She picked up the coaching reins the following year and has again secured the job for 2022, with unfinished business to attend to after a heartbreaking finish last year.
The Maroons meanwhile can never be discounted – whether it is in women’s or men’s Origin. Despite NSW teams having had the better of the NRLW, the Broncos and Titans both had strong seasons and only narrowly lost their semi-finals. The Queensland squad comprises 17 players from those two teams, and there is plenty of strength in their line up. Ali Brigginshaw is a stalwart in half-back, while Tamika Upton in full-back provides the flair and 2021’s Nellie Doherty Award winner Tamzin Gray in the second row brings the power.
It has been a landmark year for women’s rugby league. After a 491-day hiatus between the third and fourth seasons of the NRLW, this year will see the fifth season kick off in August – just four months after the players last hung up their boots. The expansion of the competition for 2023, with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, North Queensland Cowboys and Wests Tigers – alongside the Raiders – joining the competition, will see an increase from six teams to 10 and mark the most significant development in the competition since its inception in 2018.
This expanded player base also adds pressure to the players competing in Origin. With more young talent coming up through the ranks and gaining more experience in the blossoming NRLW, competition for places in blue and maroon jerseys will be more intense than ever. As well as state pride on the line, the players will know this one game is their opportunity to make an impression and demonstrate their cruciality to the selectors.
It all sets up a tantalising contest on Friday as the crunch of boots on ice and the roars of a rugged up crowd are poised to become the soundtrack to a history-making women’s Origin match.