HOLLI Wheeler will be aiming to win her second premiership in a year on Sunday when she lines up for St George-Illawarra in the NRLW grand final against Brisbane at ANZ Stadium.
Earlier in the season Wheeler, 29, originally from Old Bar near Taree, NSW, was named player of the match when CRL Newcastle defeated Mounties in the NSW Women's Premiership decider, also at ANZ Stadium. This was before the start of the second NRLW premiership.
A former Australian Country hockey representative, Wheeler only started playing rugby league in 2018 following a suggestion from Country Rugby League women's participation officer Kylie Hilder, who lives down the road at Forster.
Wheeler and Hilder played hockey together and league tag against each other. They were team-mates at CRL Newcastle and the Country representative side and also in the NSW State of Origin clash this year. Wheeler made her Origin and Australian debuts last year.
Now Wheeler, who now lives in Newcastle, will be lock for St George-Illawarra in the NRLW grand final against defending champions, Brisbane.
The Broncos won the inaugural NRLW grand final last year. Saints only won one game in 2018.
"It's been a bit of a whirlwind - it seems to have come around very quickly,'' Wheeler said of Sunday's grand final.
She's not being happy with her current form.
"I've had to make adjustments because I've moved from second row to lock, so I'm spending more time in the middle,'' Wheeler explained.
"I'm probably not getting as much game time as I would like. But this week I'm just going to focus on doing my job and make sure I have the right mindset.''
The Dragons had a high turnover of players from last year and given the short nature of the NRLW, Wheeler explained there's not a lot of time to develop combinations.
Saints went into the season as favourites but lost to Brisbane in the opening match before scoring strong wins over New Zealand and Sydney Roosters. Success against the Roosters sealed a berth in the big dance.
Wheeler is confident the Dragons are peaking at the right time, but she conceded the Broncos will be tough.
"You can never write them off, even though they lost players from last season, they still have plenty of quality players and a great coaching staff,'' she said.
"I think the teams are evenly matched and hopefully it is a great game of football, so people watching will come away with a positive impression of the women's game.''
Wheeler's already won one premiership this year. She was player of the match in the NSW Women's Premiership grand final when her side, CRL Newcastle, downed Mounties.
"I'll take it,'' she replied when asked if she can reproduce that effort on Sunday.
"But as long as I do my job for the team I'll be happy, especially if we get to hold up the trophy at fulltime.''
Four teams enough for now
HOLLI Wheeler cautions against expanding the NRLW before there's a sufficient pool of quality players.
Wheeler was St George-Illawarra's player of the year in the inaugural NRLW season in 2018 and will start at lock in Sunday's grand final against Brisbane. She's also a NSW State of Origin and Australian representative.
Four teams - Saints, Sydney Roosters, Brisbane and New Zealand have contested the first two years of the NRLW and there is speculation the number could go to six as soon as 2020.
"I've heard Newcastle could be entering a team, but I don't think there's anything in concrete yet,'' Wheeler said.
However, she pointed out that while women's rugby league has made significant strides in the last couple of years, it is still in its infancy. Wheeler would like to see a longer NRLW season, but not necessarily more teams.
"I'd stick with four sides, but play each-other twice before the semi-finals,'' she said.
At the moment the teams only meet once.
Wheeler fears that expansion for the sake of expansion could dilute the standard of the competition and probably lead to blowout scorelines.
"Teams getting beaten by 50 or 60 points isn't good,'' she said.
However, she has confidence in the NRL.
"I know they listen and after last year's competition they sought feedback from the players.
"Tiffany Slater (NRL general manager for Elite Women's Program) has the good of the game at heart. We all want the game to get bigger and stronger,'' Wheeler said.
Wheeler played in the one-off test against New Zealand last year. The Jillaroos will meet New Zealand in New Zealand in November.
There's also the World Nines in late October, but Wheeler doesn't think she'll be part of that.
"I don't think I'd be much of a nines player,'' she said.
Wheeler isn't thinking too much about another tilt at the Kiwis at the moment. Her focus is firmly on Sunday and beating the Broncos.
"Anything that happens after that is a bonus,'' she said.