SWANS FIND IDEAL MIX AHEAD OF GRAND FINAL SHOWDOWN
Sydenham Swans are banking on their blend of experienced premiership-winning stalwarts and exuberant first-timers to regain the CRL Women’s Premiership from Linwood Keas on Happy Hire Grand Final Day at Ngā Puna Wai on Sunday.
Champions in 2020-21, the Swans were run down late in a 22-20 thriller in the corresponding showdown last year – and that defeat ensures motivation won’t be lacking in a tantalising rematch this weekend.
“It’s really exciting for the club, we’re looking forward it,” Sydenham co-coach Natu Togiaso says.
“Last year’s grand final was a learning curve, it was a good experience. We’ll learn from that and hopefully pull it off on Sunday.
“We’ve got a good mix of new and senior players, but in that Grand Final arena we’ll be heavily reliant on our senior players to lead our squad.”
Those senior players include tough and dynamic Kiwi Ferns representatives Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe and Vicki Logopati-Campbell, seasoned campaigners with vast Grand Final experience.
A long-serving cornerstone of the Canterbury pack, Kuruwaka-Crowe was named player of the match in the Swans’ resounding 2020 and ’21 Grand Final victories. The Grand Final Day association between Kuruawka-Crowe and Logopati-Campbell extends back to their Papanui days, teaming up in the Tigers’ 2017 premiership success.
But an injection of youth shapes as an equally important component of Sydenham’s quest to topple Linwood. Earlier this year Kyla Lynch-Brown and Manea-Faith Waaka starred for the inaugural Ahi Kā Aotearoa team, a New Zealand under-19s selection which competed at the Harvey Norman Women’s National Championship on the Gold Coast.
The duo has made an enormous impact on the CRL Women’s Premiership and are capable of busting their first Grand Final wide open.
“They just bring that X-factor into the game,” Togiaso enthuses.
“They keep everyone on their toes, which is cool. They’re exciting players and that’s what we’re after – they boost the team, even the senior players. It’s a well-balanced team.”
The Swans made an emphatic semi-final statement last Sunday, overwhelming Woolston Rams 60-0 in an impressive tune-up for the decider.
“We played really well but the score doesn’t reflect how hard Woolston played,” Togiaso says.
“We just held the ball – that was the difference, and we came away with the win.”
The regular-season series between Sydenham and Linwood was split one win apiece. The Keas took out the initial Grand Final rematch 30-20 in April, but the Swans responded with an outstanding 30-4 victory in June.
The rivals’ third fixture was thwarted by a weather cancellation – part of unfortunate run of events and scheduling that has prevented the Keas from playing since July 9. But Togiaso isn’t buying into any notion that the defending champs may come into the Grand Final underdone.
“I don’t think so – Linwood train hard, so they’re fit as anything.
“They’ve got a lot of experienced players there and – like our girls – they have a lot of dual-code players, so they have game-time there. There’s no disadvantage.”
Meanwhile, the Swans are wearing their status as Sydenham’s flagship team as a badge of honour, determined to deliver more silverware to a club that is celebrating its 110th anniversary in 2023.
“Being our premier team, they’ve got the full backing of the club and it’s just exciting that they’re consistent and perform,” Togiaso raves.
“It’s especially exciting for the youth girls coming up, this team has attracted a few players and women’s league is growing real fast. We’ve tried our best to keep up with it all and they’re a good team.”