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Penitani hoping dream year ends with another high

Tiana Penitani has reached a few firsts in her sporting career in 2019, but the one she achieved at Leichhardt Oval last weekend may just be her favourite.

She represented Australia in Rugby Sevens before her first foray in rugby league in 2019 resulted in a State of Origin debut for NSW and a key role in helping the Dragons reach Sunday's NRLW grand final.

The special aspect of last Sunday's stand-alone match between the Dragons and Roosters was the knowledge Penitani had that a host of family and friends were watching her play live for the first time.

"Most of my family and friends have never seen me play because when I was playing rugby, I was playing overseas for the majority of the time," Penitani said.

"I've been playing footy for quite a long time so for so many of my family and friends to get the chance to see me play live was really special. It was really nice to have some familiar faces in the stands." 

What an occasion it was for those special people in her life.

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As well as being a big day for Penitani, the match doubled as a farewell for Ruan Sims - a woman Penitani has admired for many years.

"I look up to Ruan so much because of the transition that she made; captaining Australia in rugby union and then all of the achievements and the accolades she has racked up playing rugby league. She is quite an incredible person," Penitani said.

With the win over Sims' Roosters on Sunday, the Dragons booked their spot in the premiership decider.

I know it was a shock for many of the players, with Penitani and Kezie Apps in disbelief on the bus ride home.

The scary thing is I have a feeling we haven't seen the best of the Dragons this season.

Many predicted the Dragons would be the team to beat this season. With talent like Apps, Maddie Studdon, Jessica Sergis and Brittany Breayley in the squad, big things were expected.

Things didn't click straight away with the Broncos winning the round one meeting between the two teams.

For Penitani, the pressure that came with a first up loss reflects the challenges associated with such a short NRLW season.

"Being in the NRLW is really tough. You are together for an eight-week period where all these players are thrown into a brand new team and have to get their combinations right really quickly and you have to build culture really quickly," Penitani said.

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"It’s not easy to do with big personalities and lots of talent in the room, but we had a process and Daniel Lacey had a plan for us. The biggest thing for us is family – we place a lot of emphasis on family and the broader community as well as the talent that we’ve got at the Dragons.

"I think we knew that over time our combinations would gel and we wanted to peak in the grand final, not round one."

It was that second game against the Warriors where the Dragons showed what they were capable of, running away to win 26-6. They have not looked back.

Penitani's personal interest on Sunday extends beyond the Dragons team she is a part of.

Her fiance Aaron Gray will be playing for the Newtown Jets in the State Championship decider against the Burleigh Bears.

Neither Penitani or Gray could watch the other live last weekend with one game at Leichhardt Oval and the other at Bankwest Stadium.

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Gray watched the end of Penitani's game just before he went out to prepare and Penitani got hold of her phone as soon as she could after her game to keep track of the score in Gray's match.

But the duo will have a big cheer squad there on Sunday, with Penitani's mum being on the phone trying to secure more tickets once both results were confirmed.

It would be a fitting end to the season if this couple both lift premiership trophies on Sunday afternoon.


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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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