Dragons halfback Rachael Pearson admits the delayed 2021 season has been a whirlwind experience in what has been a breakout year for the grand final-bound playmaker.
Hailing from the small town of Hay in southwest NSW, Pearson has become one of the standout stars of the 2021 competition in what is her debut NRLW season.
Her rookie year has been an incredible feat considering she is the second leading points-scorer and sits only behind Brisbane’s Lauren Brown in most goals kicked this season.
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Pearson has climbed the ranks in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership with the Helensburgh Tigers, playing alongside Kezie Apps and Jessica Sergis in the 2021 season.
Now, the 28-year-old is preparing to play in Sunday’s grand final in Redcliffe as she continues her meteoric rise in the NRLW.
“I don’t know when it will sink in,” Pearson said. “Probably when we run out (on Sunday) and the whistle blows I suppose.
“I’m trying to treat it as just another game and not play the game in my head before we get to it. I want to soak up this week because it is exciting.”
Pearson packed up her bags three years ago and travelled the 700km from Hay to Wollongong to pursue an NRLW contract – and now that sacrifice has paid dividends having secured the Dragons No.7 jersey.
She has scored a try, set up another and has a 96 per cent tackle efficiency rate across her five games so far this year.
NRLW grand final teams
Her kicking game has also proved to be a gamebreaking asset, scoring all 10 points (one try, three goals) in the Dragons 10-0 win over the Eels in Round 2.
She said making it through to this year’s NRLW grand final was a massive achievement from the club and her teammates.
“We weren’t expecting earlier on in the year to be in the grand final, but it’s good to prove people wrong,” she said. “We deserve to be there.”
Pearson is no stranger to travelling for footy, and nor is her family, and said a strong contingent of supporters will be heading to Redcliffe on Sunday to cheer her on.
“I’ll have a bit of a fanbase and family come up for the game,” she said.
“They were all looking at tickets as soon as the whistle blew last Sunday.
“They’re just working out where they will fly from et cetera because it’ll be pretty pricey but they’re willing to pay to come up to Redcliffe and watch.
“It means a lot to have them there.
“In Round 1 they showed a sign (in the crowd) that said ‘Rat No.7, All The Way From Hay’ and it’s been sitting at home until the grand final, so it will make another appearance in the crowd.”
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FIVE OTHER BREAKOUT STARS OF THE 2021 NRLW SEASON
KEILEE JOSEPH (Roosters)
The supersub for the Roosters has proved to be the difference on numerous occasions this year, scoring two tries and averaging 102 run metres off the bench. “She’s been on the radar for a long time, who just has a really good work ethic,” Jillaroos coach Brad Donald said. “She always works hard in the gym and she’s worked hard on her fitness and you can see that on the field.”
EMMA TONEGATO (Dragons)
It’s hard to go past the incredible form of the Dragons No.1 this season. The former Olympic Rugby 7’s star has scored four tries in six games and averages 161m a game in her debut NRLW season. “She has complemented the Dragons so well,” Donald said. “She has shown what level these players can go to as a full-time athlete.”
HAGIGA MOSBY (Broncos)
The 21-year-old rocketed onto the NRLW scene in her rookie season with four tries in her four games on Brisbane’s left wing. A tough-as-nails outside back, Mosby has made six tackle breaks and six line breaks this season. “She would have to be in consideration for Tahnee Norris’ Queensland Maroons side,” Donald said.
DESTINY BRILL (Titans) Fans caught a glimpse of Brill’s talent in last year’s State of Origin but the 18-year-old backed it up with a superb debut NRLW season. She leads the competition for tackle breaks, with 35 which is all the more impressive considering she stands at just 178cm tall. “She plays tough,” Donald said. “It’s almost like she resents being tackled and she has this strength that you don’t normally see in players until they’re in their mid-20s.”
EMMA MANZELMANN (Knights)
Another Queensland youngster coming through the ranks put in an impressive effort with the Newcastle Knights this season. At 166cm tall, Manzelmann starred off the bench for most of the season and was just as strong in defence, missing just three tackles all year.