Baxter back in the halves for Sky Blues

Margie McDonald

It is a fresh new partnership for Westpac NSW Sky Blues five-eighth Coban Baxter but she’s enjoying the connection with halfback Rachael Pearson as they prepare for the 2024 Women’s State of Origin decider in Townsville next Thursday (27 June).

Baxter has played centre and fullback for the Sky Blues in previous campaigns, but her last four games at No.6 have been with three different No.7s – Melanie Howard in 2020, Maddie Studdon in 2021, and Pearson for Games One and Two in 2024.

Baxter missed 2022 and 2023 through the birth of her second son, Beauden. She returned to the NRLW last year for a fourth season with the Sydney Roosters, four months after giving birth.

Her form has been so good in 2024 she managed to secure her seventh Origin jersey – her ninth time playing for NSW.

Now she wants to extract every ounce of creativity from the halves partnership with Pearson.  

“It’s crucial to the team (halves combining) and Rat is so easy to work with. We have some similarities in that we both have calm heads.

“I feel like the first two games we still haven’t linked up as much as I’d like.

“We sort of stuck to our edges but we’re trying to link up a bit more this game because I think if we do we can be pretty lethal out there.”

They had 74 receipts between them in the 22-12 win at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane and 66 in the 11-10 loss at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.

“She’s the chief out there for sure – I’m her 2-I-C (second in charge) – but if I see something I’ll make sure our edge gets the ball.

“Our outside backs are so strong and I have two of the greats in Isabelle (Kelly) and Tiana (Penitani).

“I’ve actually never played on the left edge with those two. I was on the right edge in my last two Origins in the halves.

“Even at the Roosters with Izzy I’m on the right edge. But I’m loving the left side and I just want to get the ball to those two as quick as I can because I love what they do in attack. “

Kelly scored in the 2022 win over the Maroons in Canberra, Penitani scored twice in Game Two in Townsville last year, and again in Game Two in Newcastle this year.

Not only can she enjoy a box seat to watch that unfold, 30-year-old Baxter has been reflecting on all she’s seen in women’s Origin from one game 2018-2022, two games in 2023 and three games in 2024.

“It makes me feel old but I’m really grateful to see this happening,” she said.

“When I started I was amazed with the treatment and respect we got as players. Now to see how much the game has progressed, it is actually such an honour to have lived through that.

“I would not have thought a three-game series would be possible in my career.

“I’m now part of the very first one and that’s very special and pretty cool.”