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How new-look halves delivered new-found success for Eels

Parramatta halfback Tayla Preston knew little of halves teammate Ash Quinlan before the pair got on the field together for their NRLW debuts in Round 2 of this season.

The Eels had just come off the back of a humiliating 38-16 loss to the Roosters on home turf with questions immediately asked why the club let former halves Maddie Studdon and Emily Curtain go.

Eels coach Dean Widders opted for three changes, two of which were a new-look halves pairing in Preston and Quinlan.

They had no game time alongside each other previously but are now crucial to Parramatta’s title hopes in Sunday’s NRLW grand final after a stunning five-week revival.  

“I didn’t know too much about her before this season but we’ve gelled really well,” Preston said ahead of the NRLW decider.

“Our communication is really good and we’re on the same page with how we want to play.

“We worked on both our strength and weaknesses and we’ve hit the nail on the head with what works for our team.

Parramatta Eels playmaker Ash Quinlan.
Parramatta Eels playmaker Ash Quinlan. ©NRL Photos

“Early in the season we were sticking to one side but we wanted to throw something different at them (the Roosters) and play a bit more eyes up the more confident we got.

“It gives Ash a bit more space and time out wide.”

The pair may not have known a whole lot about each other but it turns out they’ve got more in common than they thought.

Both with touch football backgrounds before transitioning to tackle, they faced similar injury adversities at young ages to make it to the NRLW’s biggest stage on Sunday.

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Quinlan has overcome a dislocated knee cap and broken leg as a teenager while Preston tore her ACL in 2020 just months after representing Australia in the Prime Minister’s XIII fixture in Fiji.

“I busted my arse to get back, it set me back. It knocked my confidence but I’ve built that confidence back up,” Preston said.

“[Not playing anymore] did a little bit cross my mind, if it was worth it, because it was such a big setback.

“But I’m a fighter and want to be out there. I’ve watched the girls the last four years and knew I wanted to be a part of it. I froth footy and watch every game on TV.

“I’ve tried to take it (the opportunity) with both hands.”

Parramatta’s remarkable surge to the Grand Final sets up a mouth-watering showdown with the Knights, who got out of jail late in the last match between the two teams in Round 3.

The Eels will go in as underdogs for the match – as they have done all season – but they’ll have the upper hand in support after the women’s side qualified alongside their male counterparts this year.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet, it’s going to be an awesome atmosphere,” Preston said.

“We knew we deserve this and want to be there. The Knights will come out firing but we’ve got to match that intensity.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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