Grand final excitement has hit the Gunnedah Bulldogs Poochettes AFL women’s side this week, after learning that they will again tackle arch rivals, the Inverell Saints, in the 2022 North West Women’s AFL grand final.

The Poochettes were the first side through to the big dance, following their 36-point, 59 to 23 victory in the major semi-final.

That semi-final was at Tamworth a fortnight ago, and the same venue is set to stage the fifth fixture between the Poochettes and Saints this season as the Gunnedah side is yet to taste defeat between the two sides.

Both the Poochettes and the Saints occupied the top two rungs of the ladder for the entirety of season 2022, deeming it no surprise they would meet once again.

What has fast become a rivalry between the two sides, the Poochettes hold a slight advantage heading into the grand final having defeated the Saints on all but one occasion during the home and away season, as well as the major semi-final, where the Poochettes escaped with a draw in the dying stages of the match.

Although defeating the Saints convincingly in round two of the home and away season by 50 points at Gunnedah, the two round clashes between the sides thereafter were nail biting contests.

Both were away trips to Inverell to tackle the toughest assignment in North West AFL – the Poochettes escaped initially with a 29-all draw in round nine.

In torrid wet conditions on their second visit in round 14, the Poochettes ran down an eight-point deficit to storm home with a three-point, 25 to 22 victory in the dying stages of the last quarter of that match. 

In the major semi-final though, the Poochettes clicked into gear to maintain the rage from start to finish, excusing a 15-minute period in the third term where their opposition gained some ascendency – in the process stunning the Saints – to book their place in the grand final this weekend.

Coach Jakob Vearing is urging his players to embrace the grand final, and use it as an opportunity to showcase their talent on the biggest stage on the final day of competition.

“We haven’t reached this position to go into our shell now, so we will take the challenge and game head-on, like we have done all year,” Vearing said.

“The girls are excited.”

The Poochettes are expected to garner the return of star forward duo of Nikki Morrison at centre-half forward for the match, along with leading goal scorer for the competition Gyarn Waugh at full forward.

The jewel in the crown for the Poochettes this season has been a collective and even spread of performance from all players, across all lines of the field.

They have been excellent out of the middle, where captain Rani Grant is expected to again “lead the charge in contested ball and driving her side forward into attack”.

Rani Grant is ably supported through a rotation of Laura Ewington, Chloe Sumpter, Khobi Devine and Katrina Rekunow in the midfield, where the Poochettes have excelled at being the first to the ball to give their forwards the best opportunity in attack and make an impression on the scoreboard.

Conversely, their backline has also been stringent throughout the season, serviced impressively by the staple of key players  – fullback Abbey Ruttley and on the half-back line Georgia Tibbs and Casey O’Connell.

Ruttley is the side’s main defender as she often takes the opposition’s most dangerous target, while Tibbs and O’Connell also perform shut down roles but have the ability to give the Poochettes the drive in turning from defence into attack.

Kick off is at noon for the Poochettes as they aim to add to their premiership cabinet which currently holds their maiden flag of 2022, having missed an opportunity at premiership glory in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic grounding all competitions to a halt.

Following their match, the Tamworth Swans will take on New England Nomads, who impressively have come from fourth in the finals draw, in the men’s grand final.

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