Three-time NRLW premiers Brisbane have been given a major boost in their quest for a four-peat with one of their biggest stars returning for their semi-final clash with the Roosters.
Broncos fullback Tamika Upton has been described as being “in a league of her own” as the Rockhampton rocket returns to the side this weekend in a huge boost to Brisbane’s premiership chances.
The 25-year-old has been forced to sit out the past two games because of injury and then Covid as Brisbane went on to claim the NRLW minor premiership and book a semi-finals spot against the Roosters at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
Upton lit the competition alight in the early rounds of the season with her blistering pace and support play before a head knock with Dragons centre Keele Browne in round 3 and then a positive Covid result ruled her out for the rest of the regular season.
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The Brisbane No.1 admitted it had been tough to watch her teammates while she sat in isolation – or from the sideline – but it gave her a fresh perspective on the game and it’s set to give her a big advantage over the Roosters on Sunday.
“I learnt a lot watching from the sideline so I took that as a positive,” Upton said.
“I realised the area and the spacing on the field. You don’t really see that while you’re out there because you get a bit of tunnel vision.
“I watched that Titans game from the coaches’ box so you can see the whole field.
“That was a really good experience.”
SCROLL DOWN FOR NRLW SEMI-FINAL TEAM LISTS
Upton’s return is set to be a huge boost for the Broncos in Sunday’s semi-final, with Brisbane enforcer Millie Boyle describing the talented fullback as being in a league of her own.
“I definitely think Tamika is in a league of her own,” Boyle said.
“She’s set the standard for fullbacks playing the game, not just in the women’s game.
“It comes so natural to her in the way she organises the defensive line and chimes in when she’s needed.
“She has this ability to pop up in the middle for a support play.
“Cover tackles, speed, everything, she just ticks so many boxes.
“As good as she is, I think she’s still very underrated for what she actually does for the team and our confidence.
“She’s a big boost to have back this week.”
The Broncos also welcome back premiership-winning outside back Julia Robinson on Sunday after she broke her cheekbone in round 1.
Despite the losses of Upton and Robinson, the Broncos have been able to cover their spots in a clear indication of the strength of their playing roster depth.
“Our depth is great and we’ve had a few debutants this season,” Upton said.
“The experienced people like Amy Turner and Ali Brigginshaw helps to bring through these younger ones and they just step into the Broncos jersey and do a job.
“I’ve been really impressed.
“There’s a lot of talent out there and with expansion, we’ll no doubt see a lot more.”
Soward puts steel in Dragons
Jamie Soward knows a thing or two about being defensive.
Which is why it should be no surprise that St George Illawarra are banking on their reputation as the best defensive team in the NRLW to drive them to a breakthrough premiership.
The Dragons will be out to book a spot in next week’s grand final in Redcliffe when they face newcomers Gold Coast in the first of Sunday’s semi-final double-header in Leichhardt.
Soward’s side were denied the minor premiership by points differential, however they can still lay claim to being the best defensive team after conceding just 48 points in their five games.
And centre Jaime Chapman credits the premiership-winning coach.
“We have such a strong forward pack. And while our girls are little, we’re definitely strong,” Chapman said. “Everything we’ve been working towards has come our way during the game.
“Sowie doesn’t hold back on us with contact at training. So I think that’s helped us a lot within the games and our experiences as well.”
The Dragons will have to be at their miserly best to deny the Titans what would be a fairytale shot at premiership glory in their inaugural season.
Gold Coast pushed St George Illawarra all the way in their round-one clash off the back of an inspirational display from star fullback Evania Pelite.
The 2016 rugby sevens gold medallist was near unstoppable that day, recording a game-high 162 runs as the Titans fought back from a 14-0 deficit to get back within two.
Pelite missed last week’s final-round win over Newcastle with an ankle injury, and remains in some doubt to take the field at Leichhardt Oval after being named on an extended bench.
“She’s such a strong player and she’s one of our targets,” Chapman said.
“Having her out of the game would be a win for us. But if she was to play, we all trust each other to get straight on her and tackle her one-on-one.”
NRLW SEMI-FINALS – THE KEY MATCH-UPS
DRAGONS and TITANS
Kezie Apps v Steph Hancock
Two of the most experienced forwards in the women’s game are continuing to dominate the competition, so expect fireworks when they come together. Apps has averaged 11 carries for close to 100m across her three games this season while Hancock has barnstormed her way to two crucial tries in two separate matches.
Emma Tonegato v Jetaya Faifua
Olympic gold medallist Tonegato has been one of the standouts of the NRLW season so far. Her blistering speed and tackle busting ability has terrorised opposition defensive lines. Youngster Jetaya Faifua has been named in the No.1 jersey for the injured Evania Pelite – who has been named on the extended bench – and possesses scintillating speed to rival Tonegato’s. Pelite was the star in the first meeting between these two sides.
BRONCOS and ROOSTERS
Tamika Upton v Corban Baxter
The two State of Origin representatives will be key for their respective sides on Sunday. Upton’s speed and support play is incredibly tough to stop while Baxter’s leadership and experience can help guide the Roosters to victory.
Shenae Ciesiolka v Jessica Sergis
Ciesolka has proved to be one of the most damaging centres in the game this year, with four tries and four try assists to her name. For the Roosters, star recruit Sergis has shown glimpses of just how dangerous she can be and being a big game player, expect her to step it up a notch against the Broncos.
SEMI-FINAL TEAM LISTS
DRAGONS v TITANS
Sunday, 12.00pm, Leichhardt Oval
1. Emma Tonegato, 2. Teagan Berry, 3. Jaime Chapman, 4. Paige McGregor, 5. Madison Bartlett, 6. Taliah Fuimaono, 7. Rachael Pearson, 8. Elsie Albert, 9. Keeley Davis, 10. Kezie Apps, 11. Talei Holmes, 12. Shaylee Bent, 13. Holli Wheeler
Bench: 14. Quincy Dodd, 15. Kody House, 16. Tegan Dymock, 17. Janelle Williams
Reserves: 18. Renee Targett, 19. Keele Browne, 20. Shellie Long, 21. Aliti Namoce-Sagano, 22. Alexandra Sulusi, 23. Matilda Power, 24. Chantel Tugaga
1. Jetaya Faifua, 2. Karina Brown, 3. Jasmine Peters, 4. Shaniah Power, 5. Hailee-Jay Maunsell, 6. Grace Griffin, 7. Kimiora Breayley-Nati, 8. Brianna Clark, 9. Brittany Breayley-Nati, 10. Stephanie Hancock, 11. Tiana Raftstrand-Smith, 12. Tazmin Gray, 13. Destiny Brill
Bench: 14. Georgia Hale, 15. Jessika Elliston, 16. Laikha Clarke, 19. April Ngatupuna
Reserves: 18. Cobie-Jane Morgan, 20. Karli Hansen, 21. Zara Canfield, 22. Evania Pelite, 23. Lauren Dam, 24. Lauren Moss
BRONCOS v ROOSTERS
Sunday, 1.45pm, Leichhardt Oval
1. Tamika Upton, 2. Julia Robinson, 3. Amy Turner, 4. Shenae Ciesiolka, 5. Emily Bass, 6. Tarryn Aiken, 7. Ali Brigginshaw, 8. Millie Boyle, 9. Lauren Brown, 10. Chelsea Lenarduzzi, 11. Kaitlyn Phillips, 12. Amber Hall, 13. Lavinia Gould
Bench: 14. Hayley Maddick, 15. Tallisha Harden, 16. Roxette Murdoch, 17. Sara Sautia
Reserves: 18. Jada Ferguson, 19. Hagiga Mosby, 20. China Polata, 21. Toni Hunt, 22. Jessikah Reeves, 24. Lesa Kaleti Mata’afa
1. Corban Baxter, 2. Leianne Tufuga, 3. Jessica Sergis, 4. Isabelle Kelly, 5. Brydie Parker, 6. Zhara Temara, 7. Raecene McGregor, 8. Sarah Togatuki, 9. Olivia Higgins, 10. Mya Hill-Moana, 11. Yasmin Meakes, 12. Olivia Kernick, 13. Hannah Southwell
Bench: 14. Jocelyn Kelleher, 15. Keilee Joseph, 16. Tayla Predebon, 17. Simone Karpani
Reserves: 18. Joeli Morris, 19. Kalosipani Hopoate, 20. Lauretta Leao-Seve, 21. Otesa Pule, 22. Shawden Burton, 23. Taylor-Adeline Mapusua, 24. Taneka Todhunter
Originally published as NRLW 2022 semi-finals preview: Broncos vs Roosters, Dragons vs Titans, team news