FROM the single training session Western Zone coach John Griffiths had with his players before Saturday’s New Era Cup All Stars league tag match against Eastern Zone, he learned enough to know fitness would be key.
It certainly proved to be the case at Carrington Park as a strong second half saw Western post a 30-6 win over Eastern in the inaugural All Stars fixture.
Western ran in four tries to none in the second half after holding a slim 8-6 lead at the break, their fitness and speed proving a strength, as was the way the players from Orange, Portland and CSU gelled.
“We had one training session on Wednesday and it was a chance to get the girls to know each other, because they are all from everywhere,” Griffiths said.
“The girls came together well - Zarlia Griffiths [Portland], Tegan Ryan [Orange] and Abby Schofield [CSU] were unbelievable, they should be playing tackle.
“I knew the first half would be tight because they've [Eastern] been training for a while I think, but I knew in the back end we'd run over them because we are a fit side.”
It was Western who had the first real chance of the match after five minutes as Billie-Jo Cook put on some fancy foot work close to the line, but Blackheath’s Kirsty Willmott made the tag in what was the first of a string of big plays she came up with for Eastern.
On 10 minutes it again looked as if Western would cross for the opener when Griffiths put Cook into a gap.
However, Bethany Wilkinson showed her speed as she sprinted back in cover to make the try saving tag.
Halfback Willmott made a 50-meter run off the following set to relieve some of the pressure on her Eastern side, which consisted of players from her Blackheath club, Kandos and Lithgow.
But on 13 minutes Western had the opener as a Jasmine Lagudi grubber close to the line bounced up perfectly for fellow Mungal Miranda Rogers to score.
Western then pushed further ahead 10 out from the break after Eastern was penalised for holding back Lagudi. Portland talent Cody Lane sliced through to make it 8-0.
Eastern needed some inspiration and it was Willmott who provided it.
Her speed off the mark and stepping saw her score a nice individual effort just over four minutes out from the break. Monique Millmore converted from in front of the sticks to make it 8-6.
From the kick-off Willmott again showed her pace as she made a 60-metre break down the right sideline and while finding Carlee Vanderhaar in support, she was tagged by the cover defence.
Western went to the break with a two-point lead, but when play resumed it upped the pressure.
A nice weaving run saw Ryan over and when some quick hands and overhead lob pass from Casey Schumack helped Amelia Clarke score untouched in the left corner, it was 18-6 with 24 minutes left.
Soon after Griffiths put Choni Hardie into a hole then booted the resulting conversion to see the margin push out to 24-6.
The win was iced with just over nine minutes left when Ryan broke clear down the right wing then rang around to score underneath the posts.
Griffiths gave praise to the performance of Willmott on the beaten Eastern side and backed the All Stars concept.
“She was good for them Kirsty, we couldn't get a tag on her, I think she had spiders on her,” he laughed.
“It's a great concept, good for New Era.
“I think this is something we've got to do every year.”