Waratahs confident they can adjust for another Super W crown

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MELBOURNE -- When Grace Hamilton leads her Waratahs teammates out onto AAMI Park in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, it'll be the fifth Super W grand final her team has reached, but for the first time NSW will enter as underdogs as they take on their toughest opponents yet.

Facing Fijiana Drua, the only undefeated Super W team in 2022 and to have beaten the Waratahs in Super W history, NSW will be tested like they never have been before as they look to secure a fifth straight title.

When the two sides met in Round 5, the Waratahs were left rattled after they conceded a quick-fire 17 points in the opening 15 minutes and never recovered, while they struggled to shut down Fijiana's offload game.

"I think last time we played them we were a bit taken back," Hamilton said. "We haven't played that style of rugby in many years due to not being able to play a lot of Test matches, so for a lot of girls it was eye opening, they play different style of footy, and for us it was a learning curve and it's something we've definitely built on.

"They love an offload game, and they're really unstructured, so it's really hard to have a specific game plan that is going to like nullify that. For us, it's about sticking to our structure, sticking to our basics, and I think we got caught into playing like them last time, so it's about sticking to our game plan and how we want to play.

"We're really excited, it's going to be a new challenge, but probably one of the tougher finals we'll ever play in." Buoyed by their recent victories over the Queensland Reds whom they kept scoreless in 46-0 and 36-0 victories, Hamilton believes the confidence and momentum from those outings will have her team ready to shut down the Drua attacking threats.

"That momentum building into a grand final is definitely important for us, and I think even having that extra game was really good for us.

"Combinations wise, this year we've had a lot of injuries and COVID so we've had the teams changed a lot for us, so getting those combinations right leading into a grand final is really important.

"They really execute points off our mistakes so we need to stick to our structures, not playing out of our strength. We tried to offload balls and that's just not really us, we'll let them do the offloads and things like that.

"We've just got to be defensively up for the game, we know defence wins games every coach says that. So we've got to be ready defensively, probably tighten up a little bit, but our set piece was good and strong in that game so we'll be looking to obviously use our set piece."

Injuries will hamper the Waratahs again heading into the weekend with coach Campbell Aiken struggling to find cover in the front-row, back-row and the backline, with Katrina Barker failing to recover from a shoulder injury and Penelope Leiataua out through a head knock.

Mahalia Murphy's successful return last week has however given the team added confidence.

"She's [Mahalia Murphy] got X Factor," Hamilton said. "I think her with the outside backs in Margo [Vela] and Lori [Cramer] really link well together and they're great finishers, whether they're playing fullback or the wing, anywhere, they're quality players and they've got a lot of ball skills."

Preparing for the tough contest, the Waratahs have refused to single out any Fijiana players to try shut down, instead they're entering the match weary of the threats the Drua have across the field.

"They're quality girls. You can see in their captain Bitila, she moved from No. 8 and now she's playing tighthead prop, so they're such a versatile team. They've got backs that can play in the forwards and forwards playing in the backs," Hamilton said.

"They've got a lot of quick girls, a couple of their centres are really their strike players, so we'll obviously be looking to take them out of the game.

"But we're excited for the game, they're quality, they deserve all the credit they get. They've played some really awesome rugby this year and we're excited to the challenge to try and win."