Code-switching rugby star pumped for her first NRLW grand final

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Broughton fends off Isabelle Kelly in the upset win last week! Photo credit: Getty Images.

Rugby league fans will converge on Sydney this weekend for the greatest showpiece in rugby league: the NRL & NRLW Grand Finals.

The men's competition will see defending 2021 champions Penrith Panthers take on the Parramatta Eels, who aim to end a 36-year premiership drought.

The women's Grand Final, which kicks off Grand Final Night, has the Newcastle Knights facing off against dark horses Parramatta Eels.

The Eels' upset win over the previously unbeaten defending premiers Sydney Roosters, 24-10, last week secured their spot for the ultimate opportunity of NRLW glory.

Eels fullback Gayle Broughton (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāruahine) made the code switch from union to league only this year after moving across the ditch. After playing for club Mounties in the NSWRL, Broughton was given the call to play for the Eels’ 2022 season.

From one season, one upset victory, one try scored and not even a full year in rugby league but about to make her first grand final appearance later, Broughton has been enjoying the week leading up to the Sunday showdown.

Transition 'a joy'

With an outstanding career in sevens rugby internationally for nearly a decade, including collecting medals at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, Broughton says she can’t explain it when comparing to the grand final buildup.

“I’m now a part of that one percent of people that can say they’ve made it to a grand final in the NRL.

“Coming from the Black Ferns I wasn’t used to being an underdog. I was more so being the one hunting for. I guess the mindset for the girls is we don’t have anything to lose, people doubted us before the season started. [But] we backed each other, believed in each other.”

Broughton says the transition of union to league has been a joy and is grateful for having people like Eels head coach, Indigenous former NRL player Dean Widder, and teammates guide her. Though sometimes difficult, the transition has been rewarding for the Hāwera-born sportswoman.

“I’m an absolute sponge when it comes to learning new things, I just try to absorb everything I can. You’ve got the likes of Simaima Taufa, Tiana Penitani – amazing leadership.

“The rugby league mind that [Widders] has, I’m picking at it every day.”

Broughton is named to start on the field, when the pinnacle of the NRLW kicks off 5:55pm NZ time this Sunday, following up with the NRL Grand Final at 9:30pm NZ time.