Four years of hard work goes on the line for many players this Saturday, when Brazilian clubs Vitória Rhinos and Maringá Hawks meet in the final round of the Women’s Division 1 season.
Fierce rivals in recent seasons, the two evenly-matched clubs will not only be fighting for a grand final spot, but also places in Paul Grundy’s history-making World Cup team for November.
Fittingly, the venue will be CERET Park in São Paulo, where the Rugby League World Cup trophy visited in 2019 as a promotion of Brazil’s unprecedented qualification.
Amplifying matters even further, this Saturday’s opposing club leaders Karina Araujo (Vitória) and Margrith Weiss (Maringá) stood side-by-side in 2019, lifting the silverware as their previous team Remendadas secured the domestic championship in front of the English delegation.
“Games like this Saturday’s are the reason we love sport,” national head coach Grundy said.
“A healthy rivalry, everything to play for, and a stage in one of the world’s biggest cities.
“I can truthfully say that the 80 minutes on Saturday will decide a lot of things in my mind, in respect to World Cup roles.
“Who is going to produce the big moments when their team needs them? Who will keep enduring when fortune is not in their favour? What sort of intensity will be brought to the contest?
“If you follow rugby league in Brazil, then Vitória versus Maringá is a game you circle on the calendar anyway, but this is going to be something else.”
If any extra spice needed to be added to the occasion, the vast majority of the Vitória side are extremely eager to avenge an upset in the pre-season Nines tournament, won by Maringá.
Briefly toying with a merger with the São Paulo male team and playing under the Raiders banner, the Rhinos squad beat Maringá 24-4 in qualifying rounds, only to come out and lose the final 12-22.
Rhinos leader Araujo passionately addressed her team this week about the mistakes of the past and the desire to correct history.
Whichever team prevails from this weekend’s Vitória-Maringá clash will advance to face Melina on July 9 in the national final.
Melina has not lost a game for two years, but displayed some vulnerabilities in a 42-8 win against Maringá in early May, with a faltering defence extremely lucky to not concede a stack of further points.