Before I get into the details of the event, I would like to take the time to thank the sponsors who helped fund the trip and make our lives easy. So, a big thank you to Lawn Solutions Australia, who are a national group of accredited turf growers, offering the same ‘gold standard’ of quality to customers across Australia, and our other sponsor, Indigo Specialty Products, who focuses on the production, supply of plant protection, pest control, plant nutrition, soil, water management, and biological products.
Now onto the event itself and how it all went.
This year’s TRL NSW State Championships would mark the first NSW representative event in the last few years due to COVID-19. In order to ensure participant numbers were high enough for the event, an invitation was sent to a few QLD-based teams. The event itself was hosted in Lake Macquarie and would span over 3 days from the 18th – 20th of February beginning with the Inaugural NSW v Victoria State of Origin, before one day of round-robin competition, and one day of finals.
On the morning of the 18th at approximately 7 am, the Penrith Panthers team loaded up into our 12-seater minibus and began our near 11-hour journey to our accommodation in Jesmond, Newcastle. While we had planned stops and rests, it doesn’t take long before the team got restless being crammed into a small bus. Originally, I had accounted for maybe 3-4 stops along the way, however thinking back on it, I’d say it was more like 7-8. Eventually, after a long haul of 11 hours, we arrived at our accommodation in Jesmond.
The inaugural NSW v VIC State of Origin was to be played at 7 pm on the 18th and having received the call up earlier in the week to represent our “home” state of Victoria (due to COVID-related issues), we made our way to fields with hast.
Arriving at the fields a healthy 10 minutes prior to kick-off, we received our Victoria jerseys and began our warm-up. It is important to note that due to the weather and the Christmas break, I personally hadn’t run for more than 15 minutes in the last 4-5 weeks, and I know some of my teammates were the same so our gameplan in the origin was to conserve as much energy as possible…
But! That is never really how it goes, and 5 games later I was completely spent, holding a mixed champions medal in my hands and praying my hamstring didn’t cramp on the ride home.
Upon arriving home, one of our rooms (the one I was staying in) happened to have no air-conditioning and on a heated summer night after footy, all we could possibly dream of was aircon. After failing to reach reception, myself and a teammate I was rooming with picked up our mattresses and made haste toward one of the other apartments our team was staying at. With an aircon and a ‘comfortable’ mattress to sleep on, we were set.
The following morning, we would arrive at the fields at approximately 7:30 am feeling keen to move and feeling extra tender from the night before. Donning the “best kit at the comp” – (Newcastle Player, 2022) we made our to field 1 for our first game. Feeling a bit slow from our games the night before, we managed to take an early lead and went into halftime 3-1. Going into the second half, we were refocused and made sure to put the pace on our opposition to take bonus points and good for/against. The score at full time was 12-1.
Our next game a mere 30 minutes after the end of our previous saw us taking on Melbourne Magic; a team we had played side by side with, in the origin the night before. Making use of our speed and 2-point girl tries was able to dismiss the Melbourne Magic to a cruisy 18-3 victory.
Our dominance ensued against Samoa Mixed in an 11-1 victory and for the first time in the competition, we seemed to face some struggle as we ventured against the Newcastle Crusaders in the peak heat of the day at 12:30 pm. With low energies and the heat to go with it, we entered half time down 2-3. After a brief rehydration period and some quality team chats, we were able to keep Newcastle scoreless in the second half taking home the victory at 8-3.
1:30 pm, our last game of the day against our toughest opposition, fellow Queensland traveling team, the Logan City Lakers. A well-decorated team in TRL with many touch football representative players that we knew would make our day difficult. As we had defeated all of our opposition, we came to the conclusion that we would definitely meet the Lakers in either the semi-final or the Grand Final on Sunday, we opted to not show them our best hand so that we could go into the finals with the element of surprise. While we still played a hard-fought game, we eventually went down 0-8.
We washed our wounds and made our way back to our accommodation to get cleaned up and prepare for the finals by going to a local (25-minute drive) bar & restaurant off the beach. What ensued was a group bonding session that led to 10 Pizza orders at a lovely pizza shop in Mereweather and an acute hangover for the following morning.
We arrived at the fields Sunday morning for our 7:50 am semi-final against the Melbourne Magic. We knew this was no longer round-robin games and our scoreline didn’t matter as long as we got the win. We knew that we would be able to take our foot off the pedal once we got in front so that we could conserve energy going into the grand final.
Things didn’t start off with us very well after Melbourne scored two back-to-back tries, leaving us 0-2 down within the first five minutes. Clearly, our game plan of not putting too much energy in was having a backward effect and we knew that we would have to put all our energy into winning this one. We leveled the score up at halftime, before walking away the victors of the game at 4-2.
Walking into the Grand Final, we knew it was going to be a really tough matchup and we would need to play our best. It didn’t start out all that positive with Logan taking an early 1-point lead. We bounced back soon after with a kick try worth 2 points to give us the lead at 2-1. This was short-lived and Logan put a few unanswered points on us before finally taking the game 7-2.
While we lost the grand final, overall, the comp was a blast to be at. We spent a few days playing a lot of footy and we came away with some wins, a medal, and one of our females, Izzy Buirski received female player of the tournament which was another highlight.
We cleaned ourselves up, got changed and packed up back into the minibus, and began our journey home.
PS. I want to take the quick chance to show you all this hilarious highlight where one of our girls got flattened in the State of Origin on Friday night.