Former Black Ferns Olympic champion Gayle Broughton seeks to back up with NRL women’s title

Gayle Broughton (L), the Eels’ former Black Ferns sevens rugby union star, has made the NRLW grand final in her first season of rugby league. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

Former Black Fern Gayle Broughton has a shot at adding a NRL women’s rugby league premiership title to her Tokyo Olympic Games gold medal.

The 26-year-old from Taranaki will play fullback for the Parramatta Eels in the NRLW grand final against the Newcastle Knights in Sydney on Sunday.

Broughton is joined in the Eels squad by New Zealand-born Cassey​ Tohu-Hiku, Ashleigh Quinlan and Vanessa Foliaki while the Knights will field Kiwi Ferns wing Kiana Takairangi.

A NRLW winners medal would cap a dream first season in rugby league for Broughton, who stunned New Zealand rugby by quitting the Black Ferns in March to move to Sydney.

Announcing her decision in an emotional Instagram Post, Broughton said: “After a very special 10 years with the Black Ferns achieving things I didn’t even dream possible as a young player, I’ve decided to step away from this beautiful game.’’

Broughton scored 315 points in 112 World Sevens series game and won six world titles along with gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Tokyo Olympics.

She was still at the peak of her powers but decided to step away from the Black Ferns, giving up the prospect of another Commonwealth Games medal.

After shifting to Sydney Broughton soon linked with the Mounties club in the New South Wales premiership and was signed by the Eels in June.

Three of her former Black Ferns teammates, Sarah Hirini, Shiray Kaka and Tenika Willison, jetted to Sydney to support Broughton in her NRLW debut in August. They carried a banner saying: Float like a butterfly sting like a Gee (Broughton’s nickname).

Broughton was a NRLW ever-present at fullback for the Eels, playing all five round-robin games. She scored in the second round defeat to the St George Illawarra Dragons.

The Hāwera-born flyer impressed at fullback, carving off 181m and making six tackle breaks, in the Eels’ 24-10 semifinal win over the Roosters last weekend.

Broughton has averaged 131m this season and made 31 tackle breaks and one line break.

Quinlan, 28, the Eels’ standoff, grabbed her first try of the season against the Roosters.

Born in New Zealand, she went to Hills Sports High School in Sydney, but the ex-Roosters half still has strong Kiwi allegiances, citing ex-Silver Ferns netballer Temepara George as her favourite athlete.

Quinlan is a key playmaker for the Eels, averaging 63 running metres per game.

Tohu-Hiku won her first start on the wing in round four and while she is still searching for her first Eels try, she has retained her place for the final. The 19-year-old New Zealand-born carpenter was raised in Sydney, attending Westfield Sports High School. She has averaged 83 running metres.

Foliaki, an Eels second-rower, was born in Auckland but grew up in Orange in New South Wales. She had three seasons with the Roosters from 2018 before joining the Eels this year.

The Eels also boast two Australia-born Māori All Stars reps, wing Zali Fay and prop Kennedy Cherrington, a niece of late ex-All Black Norm Berryman. Cherrington old has already been a grand final winner in another – with the Waratahs in the Super W rugby union championship in 2019. Her sister, Reuben, is the Eels reserves.

New Zealand-born prop Ruby-Jean Kennard made three regular season appearances for the Knights, but has missed the cut for the grand final interchange bench and is listed at No 18 in the reserves. So has Kiwi halfback Brooke Morgan-Walker.

The Newcastle Knights had three New Zealanders on their books at the start of the season, but only Takairangi has made the grand final squad.

Sydney-born Takairangi played two tests for the Cook Islands at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and was a NRLW foundation season player for the Roosters.

She helped New Zealand win the World Cup Nines title in 2019 and had two tests for the Kiwi Ferns that year.

Ironically, Takairangi’s father Louis and brother Brad (a former Kiwis international now with Hull Kingston Rovers) played for the Eels club in their NRL days.

Takairangi has scored tries in her last two games, including the 18-6 semifinal win over the Dragons.

Knights centre Shanice Parker has also represented the Māori All Stars.

Taranaki-raised former rugby union player Tiana Davison is among the Knights’ reserves after two round-robin appearances as a replacement second rower.

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