NSW women to harness Origin emotion
He has twice stepped into the centre of rugby league's most heated cauldron and now former Blues front-rower Ben Cross is helping the New South Wales women's team channel the emotions around interstate rivalry to break Queensland's 17-year stranglehold.
The Women's Interstate Challenge between Queensland and NSW is serving as the opening game to a double-header in conjunction with the NRL clash between the Titans and Eels at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday with the game to kick-off at 3.10pm.
Queensland retained possession of the Nellie Doherty Cup last year on the back of a 4-all draw in Townsville and there is a growing sense that the power base of women's rugby league is now more evenly shared than it ever has been in the past.
Having coached at famed rugby league school Hunter Sports High and also at the Newcastle Knights, this is Cross's first experience with the NSW women's team and since coming into camp on Wednesday has seen the same level of Origin intensity coming out in the girls.
"As far as Origin feeling to it, there's no love lost between the girls just like there's no love lost between the guys," said Cross, who played two Origin matches or NSW in the 2008 Series.
"I know a lot of the girls are friends through the Jillaroos, as I was friends with a lot of the Queenslanders. You'd go to each other's weddings and kiss each other's babies before a game but as soon as you step over that white line it's a whole new ball game.
"You have to use emotions but when emotions get too high logic goes pretty low. So you have to make sure that you channel that into the players in the right way.
"They can use the emotion of what they have sacrificed to get to this point. Girls like Kezie Apps who travel five hours for a game on a Saturday, people who are away from their families and loved ones, those little sacrifices are emotions that they can draw on."
Despite the growing strength of the game in NSW Cross was quick to label Queensland as firm favourites along with lumping them with the pressure of not being the team that allowed this Blues team to end their dominance.
"A lot of pressure is on Queensland to not be that team that loses to NSW," Cross said.
"A lot of these girls haven't been a part of all those losses previously so it's a bit of a carry-over effect from previous generations and you can carry that burden and hopefully be that side that ends that run.
"I saw their elation [after last year's draw] that they knew they were getting closer to the mark.
"They missed about four or five opportunities – Queensland missed a few opportunities as well – but not having seen a women's interstate game before you could just see they were two very evenly matched rugby league teams.
"I've watched last year's game I would say not short of 50 times and I'm still impressed with the physicality and the speed of the game and the skill set in trying conditions in Townsville last year.
"The quality of rugby league was really high so if we can replicate that again it will be entertaining for the players and the crowd as well."
Cross and NSWRL program director Jamie Feeney have been overseeing the women's pathways program for the last five months with regular training sessions for a squad of 30 that was eventually whittled down to 18.
It's the most comprehensive preparation the team has ever enjoyed and given captain Ruan Sims an added sense of belief that NSW are on the verge of their own period of success.
"Our passion is for each other. We're a unit and we work together," said Sims, who played all 80 minutes in the front row last year.
"We've been working together or the last three-and-a-half months as a larger group and we're a tight unit.
"The vibe is fantastic, the girls are amazing and the coaching staff with Jamie Feeney and Ben Cross, those two have a huge amount of NRL experience.
"Having those two at the helm means you can really get a sense of what it's like to be that professional at that level.
"It's going to come down to who wants it the most and who has got the most passion for it.
"We're looking to make history as well as Queensland are looking to retain their history.
"It comes down to who wants it the most and who is willing to give everything to make it happen."
The Women's Interstate Challenge kicks off at 3.10pm and will be live-streamed on www.nrl.com. The match will also be broadcast on Fox Sports on Sunday at 6.30pm