Before the opening whistle in Saturday's Westfund Ferguson Cup grand final is even blown, there’s no doubt CSU Bathurst’s campaign must be considered impressive.
After a more than five-year absence, CSU re-entered the women's competition this season with a group, for the most part, comprising of newcomers to rugby.
But the all-round athleticism, combined with a constantly evolving skill set, has taken the students all the way to the decider.
Now, standing in the way of turning an impressive year into a remarkable title-winning one, is defending premiers Bathurst Bulldogs.
CSU heads into the contest at on the back of 11 straight wins, the Dom Huggett-coached students having suffered just one loss in their return season.
That momentum is something they hope will roll on through another 40 minutes on Saturday at Orange’s Endeavour Oval.
“The only game we lost was against West Wyalong the whole season – that was a round three game,” Huggett said.
“We’ve slowly grown as a team from then, we’ve slowly got better at working together. It hasn’t been 11 rounds where we’ve dominated each team, it’s been a build up and there have been some tight games.
“I’m really keen to show off what we have learned this year, put it out on the field. I reckon it will be a cracking game.”
CSU’s run of success includes a 31-24 win over Bulldogs and while plenty has changed since then, Huggett feels that result does help his players.
“I think we’d be stupid not to take confidence out of that game,” he said.
“It was week six and we were all new to rugby, so I think we are very different now to where we were back then in week six.
“But it gives the players confidence because they’ll know what they’re up against … we know they will have changed, but we still achieved that win.”
While CSU earned a direct path to the decider with a qualifying final win over Mudgee and major semi-final success against West Wyalong, Bulldogs had to play an extra match.
Huggett is hoping that those hard contests against Temora, Orange Emus and West Wyalong will have taken a toll.
“We went and watched Bulldogs [play] West Wyalong and we’re very happy that we had that week off. I feel like Bulldogs will be getting pretty physically and mentally tired playing three sudden death finals in a row,” he said.
Huggett said he did learn more about his grand final rivals watching them last Saturday, but his way of coaching is not to worry about an opponent.
Instead of thinking about what challenges Bulldogs will present, he is focusing his players on the task of utilising their strengths. If they can do that, then he feels they can win.
“I feel like we play our best when we play our own game. I have a lot of trust in our defence and attack, the way we play targets most of the weaknesses in teams in the Central West,” he said.
“We know what to do, we’ve trained hard all year. There’s a lot of speed in both teams and we know how to get it out there, so it will come down to the forwards.
“I have a lot of trust in our forwards and our bench forwards are really solid. I’m looking forward to that competition – we’ve got the bigger girls but we’ve also got second rowers who can do a lot of damage in a lot of different areas.
On the flip side, Bulldogs’ Mandy Scott says her side’s completely forgotten about that defeat to the students, and is super confident leading into Saturday’s derby.
“That result was nothing … that game is not any indication of anything for this weekend,” she said.
“I don’t think they know what we are capable of.
“When we played CSU, a majority of our girls hadn’t really played consecutively together for awhile. Now it's pretty uch been the same players day-in and day-out and we’re building into a hard team to beat.
“But we certainly won’t be going in cocky, we will use the same game plan as we did last weekend and hopefully it works out.
Kick-off is at 12.30pm at Endeavour Oval.
- CSU BATHURST: Ashleigh Bridge, Rachel Brown, Elizabeth Butt, Brydie Comiskey, Sophie Dawson, Mel Dayhew, Grace Fairall, Brienna Fonti, Jess Gann, Bridie Gordon, Meaghan Kempson, Kirrily Lazarus, Ni-Ollien, Emily Phillips, Bailey Seamer, Georgia Teirney, Georgia Verwey, Katherine Windsor, Claire Woolmington, Liz Young.
- BATHURST BULLDOGS: Ebony Fenton, Edwina Ulberg, Marita Shoulders, Amelia King, Jade Navin, Mandy Scott, Kate Gullifer, Alyza Doulis, Kirsten Howard, Kelly Edwards, Melissa Waterford, Sharna Aisake, Jess Robinson, Claudia McLaren, Tegan Roads, Tidarat Nongkhu, Courtney Auld, Ali Stanford.