New South Wales has defeated Queensland by 10 points to 4 in an exciting inaugural women’s State of Origin clash played on the Friday afternoon before the Queen’s Birthday weekend in sunny, but cool and windy conditions at Leichhardt Oval.
It gave NSW players every chance to celebrate over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend as 12 of their playing group, including veteran prop Marita Shoulders, were selected in the 20 player Australian squad.
So dominant was NSW’s win, despite the relative close scoreline that 10 of the starting 13 spots were filled by NSW players, including Shoulders in her now customary number 8 jersey.
The inaugural Australian Police Women’s Rugby League team 2022 [Photo: QWPRL Facebook site]
Shoulders, who’s been playing rugby league and/or rugby union at a representative level since 2004, gave a commanding display alongside bookend partner in Brittany Lee Bedford to lay the foundation for NSW’s commanding win.
Bedford was deemed Player of the Match due to her bullocking runs and blockbusting play and she was well supported by Shoulders, who was equally rampaging with her brutal defence and carries up the middle.
Player of the match Brittany Lee Bedford makes a break during the first half giving NSW excellent field position [Action Shots: Caroline Layt]
When reminded by The Left Winger that it’s hard to beat experience, which she has plenty of, the 41-year-old Shoulders replied in a similar vein to Cameron Munster, after he’d led Queensland to the narrow upset win in the first Origin match over NSW last week.
“I have no idea what I’m doing out there.
“I just run around and do my best.
“The coaches [NSW coach Gavin Lennon and his assistant Nathan Simpson] said get to the chopper [from the opening kick-off], so that’s exactly what I did, ” Shoulders said in her best impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1987 blockbuster hit titled Predator.
Newly-minted all-NSW Aussie front row in Shoulders, Hinton and Bedford disengage from the scrum and ready to tackle QLD on their way to victory
Shoulders, who won a further title playing for Central West over the weekend [they defeated NSW North 23-0 in the final] of the NSW Country Rugby Union championships adding icing to her cake, referenced how her coaches and teammates ambushed Queensland and gained possession deep in enemy territory and this paid immediate dividends and resulted in a try to NSW fullback Kiara White during the third minute of play.
NSW was prominent for the opening 10 minutes but Queensland hit back soon after on the back of a massive amount of possession and a string of penalties, thus they retained field position and they eventually scored through their forward Mekilah Acworth to make it a 4-all scoreline midway through the first half.
Balance was restored when Bedford kicked into gear with some long runs deep into enemy territory and on the back of this, the NSW backs made the ball sing as they probed the Queensland try-line without initial success.
They didn’t have to wait long, however, after three NSW defenders drove the Queensland ball-carrier back over their own try line for a line drop out, which NSW immediately took full advantage of and a few plays later NSW replacement Bianca White scored to make it an 8-4 ball game to NSW.
NSW halfback Nerida Gregory, who also plays for Canterbury Bankstown in the Harvey Norman NSWRL women’s rugby league premiership, added the extras for a 10-4 scoreline.
After the halftime break Queensland could’ve evened the scoreline when their halfback Samantha Bliss got across the stripe, but unfortunately for the Maroons, she was held up.
NSW then made several attacking raids deep into enemy territory, through their fullback White and their left edge combination of Jessica Brooks and Brook Walker after good lead up work by NSW number six Hayley Joseph and her halves partner Gregory.
They looked dangerous and only a forced or errant final pass stopped NSW from going further ahead on the scoreboard.
Nevertheless NSW retained field position and their dominant forward pack, including captain Gabrielle Suckling, second rower Maggie Townsend and hooker Katerina Hinton worked tirelessly in attack and defence to keep Queensland pinned for long periods in their own half.
Towards the end of the match Shoulders and two of her Blues teammates steamrolled a Queensland player into touch deep in their red zone, to extinguish all hopes of a Queensland comeback and the score remained at 10-4 to NSW as the full-time siren rang out.
Shoulders, who’s also an Australian Police representative in rugby union, said some well intentioned and deliberate psychological barbs from the Blues coaching staff and entourage worked a treat leading up to the match and had her in the right head space for a big game.
She didn’t disappoint, as the once nimbly footed back rower said “I’m bigger now, but also much stronger, which helps my game”.
Photo: She may have lost some of her trademark back row speed from her younger playing days, but Marita Shoulders can still motor when she needs to and more than makes up for it with being an enforcer and having much more game awareness these days
For a player entering the veteran stage at 41-years-of-age, Shoulders, who had her mum Denise, partner Simon and her great long-time rugby player-manager mate Kell Rees-Zarb [who started with Marita all those years ago in Penrith Shemus/Sydney Representative teams] supporting her in the crowd, still has a great turn of speed when required and was front, centre and decisive during many of the key moments of the match.
Shoulders and her bookend partner in Bedford were rewarded with starting from row spots in the inaugural Australian team. Hooker Katerina Hinton, who was also industrious at number 9 for the Police Blues made it a clean sweep as the newly named green and gold front row.
The Australian selectors also rewarded NSW with seven other starting spots and 12 overall in the squad of 20 players named after the historic match.
Queensland’s best performed players filled the other three starting spots in the Australian thirteen in their left winger Nyree Gilluley, half back Bliss and second rower Frances Wilson.
NSW halfback Gregory was selected at five-eighth to accomodate Bliss and five of the seven bench spots were filled by Queensland players.
The Blues were also fortunate to have another footy legend working behind the scenes in 2006 NSW Sky Blue representative [Sky Blue player number 85] and NSW Police Country captain, Sandra Laughlin,
The inaugural NSW City v Country match was played this year and will be forever named the Gregory-Laughlin Shield after the inaugural captains of that match.
2006 NSW Sky Blue and current NSW Police Country Rugby League captain Sandra Laughlin with the Gregory-Laughlin trophy in NSW Country’s safekeeping until next year’s match after their 14-0 win over City. Laughlin selflessly gave her time and experience to NSW’s cause to help plot QLD’s downfall. [Photo: supplied]
Laughlin, who missed selection in the final 19 for this match, was brought into camp to utilise her experience of playing for the Sky Blues all those years ago to help demystify the Maroons mystique.
It was quite a mystique too, as Queensland had newly appointed Titans NRLW head coach in Karyn Murphy as their head coach. Murphy, often referred to as the GOAT of women’s rugby league due to her prolonged playing career as Jillaroos and Maroons captain, had coached the QPSWRL team to a win over the Australian Defence Force rugby league team in 2021.
Tracy Bailey, a former Maroon and Jillaroo, was appointed as Murphy’s assistant and two former Queensland Origin players were selected in this police squad in Teresa Anderson and Steph Hancock, although the 40-year-old Hancock didn’t make the trip south, as she’d since been selected in Tahnee Norris’ Queensland Women’s Origin team who’ll take on Kylie Hilder’s NSW Sky Blue’s later this month at GIO Stadium, Canberra.
Anderson, whose nickname is “Greenie” did play in the centres, but the veteran three-quarter wasn’t selected into the Australian squad of 20.
As for Laughlin, who’s also represented Australia at Police level in rugby union alongside her great mate Shoulders, she put her initial disappointment aside at missing selection.
“I did enjoy being in camp as a mentor/assistant coach, ” she told The Left Winger.
“It was like they had me as a captain all week without playing.
“Still so good to be a part of it, ” she said.
And be a part of it Laughlin was, as she, along with NSW coaches Lennon and Simpson helped New South Wales and the on-field playing cohort of Shoulders, Hinton, Bedford, Suckling, Gregory, Walker, Joseph and co create their own Schwarzenegger type mystique, while taking down the much vaunted Queensland’s down in this inaugural match in 2022 at the iconic Leichhardt Oval.
Images below, Top: It’s great to see the elder stateswomen are still the’ mature’ ones of the team and nothing’s changed as Shoulders makes here teammates go running, as she’s dangerous with the champers bottle during NSW’s victory celebrations, Bottom: A little victory dance in front of mum Denise and partner Simon, which gave them , The Left Winger and best mate Zarby [who’s also a Left Winger} a laugh.