The Harvey Norman NSW Sky Blues have reclaimed the Ampol Women’s State of Origin Shield for the first time since 2019 after a hard-fought 20-14 win against a spirited Queensland team at GIO Stadium in Canberra tonight.
The Sky Blues were forced to dig deep after a nail-biting contest which saw them rally from an early 4-0 deficit, a Queensland fightback and a tough call in the dying stages when winger Tiana Penitani was denied a try by the bunker which could have sealed the result.
It is the first Origin win for coach Kylie Hilder, who took over the reins last year and was supported by her all-female assistants Ruan Sims and Kate Mullaly, with True Blue Jamie Soward also playing a role until contracting COVID-19 in the lead-up.
There wasn’t a bad player for the Sky Blues with centre Isabelle Kelly named Player of the Match after a powerhouse performance which included 17 runs for 181 metres including 79 post-contact, a line break, 10 tackle busts and the match-winning try.
“It was relief, it was honestly relief; they fought so hard the Queensland girls,” Kelly said after the match.
“We stuck with them the whole time. I’m so proud of our girls; we knew that if we handled the pressure, we were going to come away with it.
“It means so much (to win the Shield back). It’s taken us a few years to get here but credit to our coach Kylie, she’s been absolutely amazing with all of us.”
Kelly and fellow centre Jess Sergis (12 runs for 119 metres including 52 post-contact) took plenty of tough runs through the middle to keep the Queensland defence on the back foot; hooker Keeley Davis proved a handful out of dummy-half; props Simaima Taufa (144 metres) and Millie Boyle (111 metres) got through plenty of work; Caitlan Johnston (99 metres, two line breaks and three tackle busts) was a handful off the bench; and fullback Emma Tonegato (163 metres and a try) was solid at the back.
“The try at the end was the cherry on top,” Tonegato said.
“All week I was just training with the best of the best and I absolutely loved the week.”
Things looked promising early for the Sky Blues after prop Taufa poked her nose through the line and popped a pass for Hannah Southwell in support. Their defence was just as impressive with winger Yasmin Clydsdale pulling off a ferocious tackle early in the match.
Tonegato showed the type of form that swept her to a Dally M Medal this season after stepping and swerving her way to the line. She was only denied a try after Queensland No.1 Tamika Upton managed to hold her up over the line.
Queensland then capitalised on an early opportunity when Brittany Breayley-Nati turned a ball back inside for lock Destiny Brill to crash her way past the goal-line defence. Captain Ali Brigginshaw’s shot at goal bounced off the upright to leave the scoreline at 4-0.
NSW hit back five minutes later after Davis put a kick through that sat up nicely for Tonegato to fly through, grab, and plant down just before the dead ball line. Halfback Rachael Pearson landed the extras to put NSW in front 6-4.
Five-eighth Kirra Dibb then came up with the play of the first half after she found space between Tazmin Gray and Chelsea Lenarduzzi to break the line and then stopped and stepped her way past Upton to score a brilliant try. Pearson slotted the conversion for a 12-4 lead.
Queensland successfully challenged a decision that Penitani had been tackled in the air while trying to defuse a bomb and took advantage of the situation shortly afterwards when five-eighth Tarryn Aiken showed the defence a clean set of heels to score. Brigginshaw converted to reduce the margin to 12-10.
Johnston came close to scoring just before the break when she broke the defence and surged towards the line only to be cut down by the defence. A penalty ensued after the tackle went on for too long and Pearson landed the subsequent shot at goal to give NSW a 14-10 lead at half-time.
The second half proved to be a more of an arm wrestle with NSW regularly testing the Queensland defence, with Tonegato and Kelly still making regular metres. NSW extended the lead to 16-10 through another penalty goal to Pearson after Davis caught the goal-line defence offside.
Queensland received a chance to get back into the contest off the back of a NSW mistake and they duly saluted when centre Evania Pelite stripped the ball from her teammate Aiken and made a beeline for the corner. The conversion by Lauren Brown hit the upright and bounced back into the field of play to leave NSW clinging to a 16-14.
NSW looked to have scored the decisive try after Olivia Kernick got a pass away for Penitani to touch down in the corner but the bunker denied the try after ruling the final pass was a knock-on. It was a tough call as Kernick appeared to have definitely passed the ball.
Queensland then looked to have taken the lead after winger Julia Robinson chased down a bomb and got a pass away for Shenae Ciesiolka to score but replays showed that both players had been offside from the kick and the bunker disallowed the try.
Johnston then produced one more barnstorming run to put her team on the front foot and Kelly ensured the Shield would be returning to NSW on the next play after palming off the Queensland goal-line defence to score a well-deserved try.
“That was a great game of Rugby League, (Queensland) was tough and it went down to the wire,” NSW Sky Blues captain Kezie Apps said.
“I am so proud of all my girls, we’ve had a fantastic campaign. To Kylie and all the staff, I’m lost for words, I just can’t believe we actually won that game.
“We dug deep for each other, we knew we were going to win it and we knew it was going to go down right to the wire, but I had faith in all of the girls that we were going to keep digging.
“I’m lost for words, this is such an honour to win the State of Origin. Go the Blues!”