KEAS’ SEMI-FINAL BREAKTHROUGH SETS UP HUGE GF SHOWDOWN WITH TIGERS
The CRL women’s premiership grand final sees Papanui Tigers and Linwood Keas square off in the decider for the third successive season. But after the Tigers’ convincing wins in 2016 (44-6) and 2017 (34-20), the Keas take a crucial edge into this year’s grand final courtesy of a resounding semi-final victory a fortnight ago.
Papanui went through the regular season undefeated – including a pair of wins over their archrivals – but a heavy injury toll contributed to a 42-16 loss to Linwood in the major semi. The Tigers earned a rematch with the Keas via a 40-0 shutout of Celebration Lions last Sunday, with Kalisei Taga crossing for five tries.
The Keas have been buoyed by the breakthrough semi-final win but are keenly aware the grand final assignment at Rugby League Park will be a far greater test of their resolve.
“It’s given my team a lot of belief that we have the ability to beat Papanui,” Linwood coach Kylie O’Loughlin said.
“We’re mindful that we were playing against an under-strength team though, so we’re being realistic about the win, but it’s done wonders for our confidence.
“This group of girls has been together for three seasons now, so I think the experience year after year – especially in grand finals – they’re more equipped (to win it) this year.”
Warriors-contracted back-rower Sui Pauaraisa is available in a huge boost to the Keas’ chances.
“Sui’s a major influence in our team. She’s got a bit of a workload on at the moment – she’s playing (in a trial) on the Saturday for the Warriors,” O’Loughlin said.
“But she’s physically fit, she’s healthy and she’s testing well up there. If there’s anyone that can do it, it’d be Sui.”
However, the coach will be counting on the Keas’ experience and quality across the line-up to get the job done against the Tigers.
Sui’s a major influence in our team. She’s got a bit of a workload on at the moment – she’s playing on the Saturday for the Warriors.
But she’s physically fit, she’s healthy and she’s testing well up there. If there’s anyone that can do it, it’d be Sui.
“We’ve got a great leadership group within our team, so those girls definitely have a really good hold in terms of knowing what it takes for our players to be prepared.
“They’ve been quite influential in what they’ve been communicating to the team.”
Meanwhile, star Papanui duo Corrina Whiley and Charntay Poko, who were on the cusp of a place in the Warriors’ NRL squad before injuries struck, are in doubt for the decider. But Kiwi Ferns rep Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe and quicksilver fullback Stacey Hildreth headline a high-quality, experienced line-up for the defending champs.
“Our ladies were humbled with that (semi-final) loss. We didn’t spit any dummies, we didn’t make any excuses. That loss actually bound the team stronger and lifted the team more than knocking us back,” Papanui coach Taurean Whiley said.
“Starting with 12 players and finishing with eight, that shows you how passionate our team is and how hard they keep working for each other. Players out there got injured but kept pushing on.
“That team culture and environment, everyone’s got each other’s backs.”
Whiley was ecstatic with the manner in which his depleted side bounced back against the Lions in the preliminary final.
“I was very, very, very, very happy and impressed,” he said.
“The performance of all the ladies once again, working for each, turning up for each other – that was basically it. Not one player out there took a step backwards, I couldn’t fault that performance.”
The semi-final result has only fuelled the Tigers’ fire – the defending champs have welcomed the Keas’ stirring challenge to their supremacy in the women’s premiership.
“There’s so much passion between these teams. Both teams have the same goal. We know Linwood aren’t going to take a step back and it’s not going to be easy,” Whiley enthused.
“All year, every game we’ve played against them, they’ve progressed, they’ve grown and gotten stronger. That’s good competition for us and our ladies are really looking forward to that.”
PAPANUI WOMEN’S V LINWOOD WOMEN’S – LAST FIVE MATCHES
2018: Semi-final – Linwood 42-16 Papanui @ Papanui Domain
2018: Round 10 – Papanui 32-20 Linwood @ Papanui Domain
2018: Round 3 – Papanui 32-6 Linwood @ Linwood Park
2017: Grand final – Papanui 34-20 Linwood @ Linfield Park
2017: Semi-final – Papanui 32-8 Linwood @ Cuthberts Green