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The Broader Game: Physical testing proves winner at National Champs

The Harvey Norman National Championships was deemed an overwhelming success in Redcliffe last week but it is the players and strength and conditioning coaches across Australia who will particularly benefit in the long term.

While Western Australia (opens) and the Queensland Sapphires (under 19s) performed on the paddock to take out the respective age divisions, all 280 players came away with a clearer understanding of the performance level required to chase higher honours.

A big part of the changes to this year's tournament centred around physical performance, with each player in the 14 teams undergoing testing prior to taking part.

The data collected from the testing will give strength and conditioning coaches from all states and territories a base to help cater to individual players' needs and help identify talent into the future.

Australian Jillaroos strength and conditioning coach Simon Buxton believes the requirement would change the way female players train and play at their clubs and states.

"Overall at this level and with the elite women in the Jillaroos program we're nowhere near reaching the ceiling when it comes to strength and conditioning," Buxton told NRL.com.

WA co-captains  Anneka Stephens (left) and Kailey Thompson with the trophy.
WA co-captains Anneka Stephens (left) and Kailey Thompson with the trophy. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

"What I've found in my time is where there's been improvement with their strength and conditioning, there is an improvement with their skills in football, which we've seen over the last few years especially in the NRLW.

"The main reason why we tested at this tournament is for our strength and conditioners to not only get a gauge at where an athlete is at individually but the success of the programs they might implement.

"You need to be able to see whether the programs are working over a period of time.

"Physical testing is only one part of identifying talent but it's an important piece. It enables the individual to look at their results and compare them to the elite women.

"These women have now got numbers to strive for in each position."

Buxton used Jillaroos star Sam Bremner as an example, with the pregnant fullback considered the country's fastest women's player over 20 metres.

Jillaroos high-performance staff focus on the 20-metre sprint, 30-15 test and vertical jump when it comes to testing, the same that was applied for last week's National Championships tournament.

"What we've found is there's a correlation there between back squat strength and speed over 5-10 metres," he said.

"That's indicative in the research. Sammy can run 20 metres in under three seconds. Isabelle Kelly has also clocked under that once but Sammy's aerobic capacity is sensational, no one comes close.

Sam Bremner at full tilt at Jillaroos training in 2020.
Sam Bremner at full tilt at Jillaroos training in 2020. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

"We also look at the vertical jump. It's been around for a long time. It's used across all sports. It gives you a good indication of the countermovement jump and that lower body power, both relative and absolute.

"What I've seen with the data that has come in from states is that the athletes who produced a good score with the 30-15 are quite athletic across all the other parameters as well."

Four players who played at the Championships were presented $400 Rebel Sport gift cards for producing physical testing results that matched or came close to some of the elite women's players in the game.

One of the players was under 19s South Australian playmaker Claire Ferguson, who was being exposed to rugby league at a representative level for the first time.

With a childhood background in soccer and athletics, Ferguson has been playing rugby sevens more recently before being exposed to rugby league last week.

"It was a great learning experience against players who play every week," she said.

"I only saw the advertisement four weeks before the tournament started and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more tackling techniques and skills against girls my age.

"I picked up some good habits. All the girls came in knowing we were up against experienced players but you couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the game."

2021 Women's National Championships - Finals

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Raftstrand-Smith gets bigger call-up than expected

Rising Queenslander Tiana Raftstrand-Smith had more than one reason to smile after she was named under 19s player of the tournament at the Harvey Norman National Championships last week.

The young gun sat out the under 19s all-Queensland final due to a niggling injury but had also just received news she had been called into the Maroons squad for women's State of Origin on June 25.

A product of Keebra Park High School, Raftstrand-Smith is considered one of the best young talents in the game and is being courted by several clubs for this year's NRL Telstra Women's Premiership.

Injuries in the Maroons' extended squad in April has also forced coach Tahnee Norris' hand with Meg Ward, Annette Brander, Jess Elliston undergoing surgeries in recent weeks to be ruled out of contention.

 2021 Women's National Championships - Day 3

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NSW-Queensland in hotel conundrum

The women's State of Origin rivalry is heating up off the paddock with both states in a logistics battle over who stays at the popular Novotel Twin Waters this year.

After both sides were forced to stay at the venue in an awkward build-up as part of their quarantine requirements for last year's campaign, it seems neither state now wants to give up the facilities.

The resort includes a training field with defending NRL premiers Melbourne currently switching base to the Sunshine Coast following the new COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.

NSW are scheduled to fly into enemy territory three days before the game to finalise preparations and spend time in the community.

After attracting 4800 in pandemic restrictions last year, the event remains on track for a full capacity sellout on the Sunshine Coast in 2021.

This is a Rivalry that knows no boundaries

Equal spread of talent back on NRLW agenda

The ARL Commission continues to finalise details around the fourth season of the NRL Telstra Women's Premiership with two more teams likely to be added in 2021.

However, it's understood part of discussions includes a possible marquee points system coming back into play that may see inaugural clubs lose some of their players to rivals.

NRLW officials have always been mindful of keeping the quality of the game at the forefront when making decisions with finer details expected to be confirmed for clubs to begin recruiting over the next fortnight.

Ali Brigginshaw is mobbed by her Valleys teammates after collecting the player of the match.
Ali Brigginshaw is mobbed by her Valleys teammates after collecting the player of the match. ©Jason O'Brien /NRL Photos

Valleys take edge into finals series

Newcomers Valleys Diehards shocked Burleigh in the final round of Queensland's BHP Premiership last week to be crowned minor premiers ahead of this weekend's play-offs.

The Diehards, coached by Scott Prince and led by Ali Brigginshaw, put on a masterclass to beat the star-studded Bears side 24-0 in a boilover.

Valleys will meet the West Brisbane Panthers in the semi-finals on Saturday, while the Bears will clash with North Queensland's Gold Stars for a place in the grand final.

Bears coach Tahnee Norris has named Tamika Upton to return at fullback for the sudden-death match, just a fortnight after the Broncos star indicated she was managing a stress fracture in her back.

Brazil receive unlikely backing from rival code

Brazil's women's World Cup campaign has received a unique, yet significant boost with English football club London City coming on board as major sponsor.

In a ground-breaking cross-promotion between two sports, the Lionesses, who compete in the FA Women's Championship, will help support the Amazonas with both sports putting aside any code-war rivalry.

"Football is synonymous with Brazil, and nearly all of our players and administrators have a dual love of rugby league and football," Amazonas general manager Robert Burgin said.

"We greatly admire what the London City Lionesses stand for, and when we discovered their interested in a partnership, we knew there was meaningful common ground there."

The Lionesses' brand will appear on the front of Brazil's jersey for the entire tournament in November.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.