NORTH Newcastle will be sweating on the return of Australian representative Simone Smith for Sunday’s NSW Women’s Rugby League grand final against Redfern All Blacks at Leichhardt Oval.
Smith, from Port Macquarie, has been struggling with a knee injury for much of the season. If she gets the green light she’ll join fellow Group Three players Holli Wheeler from Old Bar and Forster-Tuncurry’s Kylie Hilder in the Newcastle side.
Wheeler will play in the second row. If Smith’s available she’ll play halfback with Hilder reverting to the hooking role after filling in at seven in recent matches.
Wheeler said Newcastle will go into the match much-the-underdog and she added the side is relishing the rating. Redfern has easily accounted for Newcastle in all matches this season.
“In the last couple of games going into the grand final the expectation was that we’d win,’’ she said.
“But that won’t be the case on Sunday. Redfern’s expected to beat us and to put a bit of a score on us as well, so all the pressure’s on them.’’
Wheeler and Smith are in their first season of rugby league, with Hilder returning after a lengthy hiatus. All three have gained representative honours, with Smith playing for the Jillaroos while Hilder and Wheeler both turned out for NSW Country. Hilder was also included in the NSW train-on squad. Hilder is also a past State and Australian rugby league representative as well as being a former Australian touch football captain.
Newcastle started slowly this year, conceding the best part of 100 points in the first couple of matches. However, they’ve improved steadily since while the inclusion of another Australian rep, classy centre Isabelle Kelly has been a bonus. Smith hasn’t played league for two months and was obviously struggling when she turned out for Port City in the Group Three league tag grand final against Old Bar, where Wheeler was a member of the victorious Old Bar side. However, Wheeler is sure she’ll make a difference on Sunday.
“I’ll take a half fit Simone Smith any day,’’ she said.
“She can put the opposition defence in two minds with a step or a cut out pass and she's just a classy player.’’
She described Newcastle as a ‘tight knit group.’
“We’re all good mates and work for one-another and I think that’s a big reason why we’ve gone so well,’’ she said.
“It’s been an awesome year so far.’’
A premiership on Sunday would make cap it off, Wheeler said.
The game starts at 4pm and will be live-streamed by the NSWRL.