Queensland wrestle with weight of history
It's the winning streak that dared not be spoken about but Queensland captain Steph Hancock concedes their interstate dominance over the past 17 years is all that can cloud what has otherwise been an ideal preparation.
Interstate supremacy and the Nellie Doherty Cup goes on the line again on Saturday when Queensland and New South Wales face off as part of a double-header prior to the NRL clash between the Titans and Eels at Cbus Super Stadium.
Queensland's stranglehold stretches back 17 years but teetered on the edge of coming to an end last year in Townsville when the teams played out a hard-fought 4-all draw.
The NSW team has been preparing for their one and only clash of the year for the past three months and Hancock knows that there is pressure associated with keeping the streak alive.
"I've been around for a little while now – my debut was in 2004 – so it's a very special milestone for me. I hope that tomorrow that doesn't change," Hancock said on match eve.
"It's something that we've tried not to focus on this week because it is a thing that you have in the back of your mind. We've steered clear of that and focused on what we need to do on the paddock.
"If that's what we're thinking about and the 18-year winning streak then I don't think anyone's going to play to the standard that they need to be.
"If we can all put that aside we can worry about that when the full-time siren's gone.
"I'm not making any excuses for last year but our preparation was not the best. We had three or our girls pull out during the week due to injury and our halfback Courtney Lockwood went down in the first two minutes with a cork and everything went pear-shaped on us.
"This year the whole side is 100 per cent fit so looking forward to what's going to happen."
Queensland coach Brad Donald has been in charge of the team for the past four years and while he hasn't used the record as motivation for his team has no doubt it is the driving force behind the Blues.
"The fact that there is that run it probably makes NSW even more hungry to get one on the board," Donald said.
"We don't focus on that much but I'm sure they possibly do so that does bring a greater element of competitiveness to the match.
"We always recognise the past players and the past achievements because it has been one hell of a run but it's just one game at a time for us.
"This is my fifth year and all we've focussed on is one year at a time, one game at a time.
"If you start getting caught up in that – especially with so many rookies – there would be too much pressure."
There are six members of the Queensland team making their interstate rugby league debuts on Saturday and while Donald expects them to tap into the emotion that comes with the Queensland-New South Wales rivalry, hopes they can settle quickly into the game itself.
"There will be plenty of emotion in the first five or six minutes of the match and before the game but before you know it you're in the grind of a match so it's just about executing and doing the things that you do in a football match," said Donald.
"It's really, really hard to relay that to some players especially the new players coming into the team who aren't used to all the emotion before a match.
"They realise after six or seven minutes and then it just becomes a match."
As captain of the Jillaroos and a member of the NRL's competition committee Hancock has been campaigning for a number of years for the women's game to be showcased on rugby league's biggest stages.
A crowd of more than 16,000 is expected for the Titans-Eels NRL clash and Hancock is thrilled that members of both teams will get to experience the kind of atmosphere that has been reserved for Tests and the Auckland Nines.
"It's great that the interstate game is played before an NRL game, especially Cbus, which is a beautiful stadium," said Hancock.
"All the debutants that get to play on a stage like this makes me very happy."
The Women's Interstate Challenge will be played on Saturday at 3.10pm at Cbus Super Stadium and will be streamed live on NRL.com.