NRLW GRAND FINAL: Knights v Eels preview

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Newcastle Knights v Parramatta Eels Sunday 3:55pm at Accor Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

Finishing last and second last in the previous season are never usually key form guides for an sporting season, but it's been a remarkable second season for both the Newcastle Knights and the Parramatta Eels who finished in those respective seasons at the beginning of the year.

The Newcastle Knights are by far and away the most improved side of the NRLW competition this season having an almost flawless season with four wins from their five regular season matches before a big win last weekend to book their maiden grand final spot.

The improvement for the Novocastrians this season has been phenomenal starting the season with a strong recruitment drive in the off-season with key players such as Millie Boyle and Tamika Upton joining the club helping their growth. The biggest signing though for the Knights this season has been their trust in 17 year-old Jesse Southwell who has just shown a composure and game management skills that some of the best players men's or women's wish they could have.

Despite winning their opening three games, the Knights really stamped their premiership credentials in their 18-16 loss to the minor premiers the Roosters. Missing key players, this was where the Knights showed they weren't going to be easybeats come finals time and their two performances against the Dragons in consecutive weeks made their momentum.

The 30-8 and 30-6 victories were almost flawless for Newcastle who despite having long periods where they couldn't dominate, they certainly left their mark to show why they can go on and win the competition.

Newcastle Coach Ronald Griffiths has made one change to the 17 named last week which is Makenzie Weale has been named on the bench instead of Caitlin Moran, although it's widely expected that Moran will come back onto the bench in place of Weale as she did last weekend.

They say you need everything to go right to make a grand final and for the Parramatta Eels the last fortnight has done just that for them after pulling off two of the biggest upsets in the NRLW's history with wins over the Brisbane Broncos and the Sydney Roosters to book both their semi-final and grand final spots respectively.

Heading into the final round, the Eels were yet to win a game and needed to pick up an unlikely victory against the Brisbane Broncos but also needed to ensure that they did so by at least six points. Things looked both good and bad for the Blue and Gold who had yet to win a game all season and lead by double digits at times and then having the scores levelled by the much-fancied Broncos.

The Eels had luck on their side as they managed to score a 12-point victory over the Broncos and then the Titans defeat ensured their spot in the finals. There was a belief in the Parramatta camp that they could replicate what their Men's team had done and booked a grand final spot but coming up against the undefeated Roosters was a tough task.

Whether it was the Eels rising to the occasion or complacency from the Roosters, the Blue and Gold were dominant in their performance and were able to book their grand final spot with a 24-10 victory over the Roosters in what was their biggest victory in the clubs short history.

The Eels are giving star Tiana Penitani every opportunity to overcome a quad injury suffered in the final round naming her on the extended bench after being ruled out last week. Eels coach Dean Widders has put Abbi Church who performed strongly in the centres last week whilst Kennedy Cherrington and Brooke Anderson have been named in the starting side after being named on the bench in the last few weeks before starting.

Last meeting: Round 3 2022 - Knights 18 Eels 16

Who to watch: Despite being just 17, Jesse Southwell has seen the biggest stages already in her career after playing at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games just weeks before her NRLW debut in Round 1. The crafty halfback has the skills that rival some of the best in the Men's game that have played for a lot longer than she has and her game management skills are going to be vital for the Knights to control the grand final.

Parramatta five-eighth Ash Quinlan has been a revelation for the Blue and Gold over the past fortnight on their way to this maiden NRLW grand final. The Eels will be relying desperately on the skills and the calm natured game of their number six to ensure that they are in the contest for the entire 70 minutes because it won't take much for the Knights to find a roll-on if they get the chance.

The favourite: Newcastle have the backing to get it done after some stellar in-season form.

My tip: It's hard to go past the Knights, they've been dominant in the competition and their efforts in the semi-finals were just too hard to go past. The Eels aren't go to be easybeats that's for sure and the confidence of being able to beat the Roosters and having their Men's side in the Grand Final will be a boost for sure. The Knights will take their maiden victory but it will be closer than many expect. Knights by 6.

1. Tamika Upton 2. Kiana Takairangi 3. Shanice Parker 4. Bobbi Law 5. Emmanita Paki 6. Kirra Dibb 7. Jesse Southwell 8. Caitlan Johnston 9. Olivia Higgins 10. Millie Boyle 11. Romy Teitzel 12. Yasmin Clydsdale 13. Kayla Romaniuk 14. Emma Manzelmann 15. Tayla Predebon 16. Simone Karpani 18. Caitlin Moran 17. Makenzie Weale

1. Gayle Broughton 2. Zali Fay 3. Abbi Church 4. Rikeya Horne 5. Cassey Tohi-Hiku 6. Ash Quinlan 7. Tayla Preston 8. Kennedy Cherrington 9. Brooke Anderson 10. Ellie Johnston 11. Christian Pio 12. Vanessa Foliaki 13. Simaima Taufa 14. Filomina Hanisi 15. Seli Mailangi 16. Najvada George 17. Rima Butler 18. Ruby-Jean Kennard

Referees: Kasey Badger; Sideline Officials: Jordan Morel, Tori Wilkie; Video Referees: Adam Gee;

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