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Coach Baker steers husband's team to grand final showdown

Chelsea Baker has done it all – she has represented the mighty Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons, won a Rugby League World Cup with the Australian Jillaroos and claimed the first ever NRLW premiership with the Brisbane Broncos.

Now this weekend she will look to add another feather to her cap as a potential grand-final winning coach.

Baker this year took up the reins of the Gladstone Wallaby RLFC men’s reserve grade team and has led them to the decider against Gladstone Valleys Diehards on Saturday.

And it will be a family affair, with Baker’s husband Matt the captain of the side.

It all started out as a joke Baker made to Matt and now the pair are one game away from a premiership trophy.

Matt and Chelsea Baker.
Matt and Chelsea Baker.

“The previous men’s coach was stepping away, so I joked to my husband that I should do it, thinking he would tell me to bugger off and it wouldn’t happen,” Baker said.

“I put my hand up jokingly. But about 10 minutes later, he messaged one of our friends and they were like, ‘this is a really good idea, let’s do it’.

“It spread like wildfire among the club. I was still pretty adamant it was a joke. But the more the husband and I sat and talked about it and talked with other people, the more it caught on.

“We didn’t even think of the premiership at the start of the year. We were trying to build our club again and that’s all our thoughts were from the get go.

“It’s been a tough couple of years, so our goal was to make it enjoyable for the boys and get fresh blood through the club. This is a bonus.”

Despite it starting out as a passing joke, Baker did have an interest in coaching after she retired from playing at the end of last year.

She was originally being considered for the job of the Wallaby RLFC’s women’s mentor, but didn’t want to take charge of a team that would need to be taught from scratch, purely because she didn’t yet know if she’d enjoy coaching.

The chance to work with experienced players has certainly helped her and she also coached the Under 19 Queensland Sapphires and was an assistant with the Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons this year.

Baker said working with the Gladstone reserve grade side – the only senior team at the club in 2022 – has been a learning curve, but has certainly motivated her to keep going.

“The boys have been really good about it,” Baker said.

“I was really nervous to start with because there are some new people there and I thought they’d wonder who the hell I was coming in and trying to coach, being a chick.

“But they’ve been really good and welcoming. I can get angry at them without them taking personally. It’s been a lot of fun.

“I thought by now the boys would have driven me mad and I wouldn’t want to coach anymore, but it’s been really good.

“It’s making me like it a lot more than I thought.”

The Gladstone Wallaby RLFC reserve grade team.
The Gladstone Wallaby RLFC reserve grade team.

Baker, who used to play with the Wallaby RLFC women’s team and is a life member of the club, has been leaning on the likes of Jillaroos coach Brad Donald and assistant coach Jamie Feeney, as well as Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons boss Tahnee Norris.

And, of course, there’s been Matt to talk to and bounce ideas off.

The wife-and-husband, coach-and-player combination has been an interesting dynamic, but as they look to claim the premiership, Baker knew it had been a combination that had worked.

“It’s not been too bad at all,” Baker said.

“He’s an old footy head and is very set in his ways and I’m trying to teach the newer ways that I’ve taken from the higher-level teams.

“It’s different things to what they’re used to. My husband is quite stubborn, but it’s not too bad at all.

“To win together, it would be something special, that’s for sure. I don’t imagine it’s ever happened before. Even if it’s not a win in the end, it’s already been something special.”

However, in unfortunate circumstances, Baker will be coaching from afar on Saturday after a clash with prior family commitments.

She said she has full faith in the team to the get the job done without her on ground.

“They’ve done all of the hard work throughout this season and I believe wholeheartedly in every one of them,” Baker said.

This premiership also means a lot not just to Baker and her team, but the club as a whole.

Gladstone has struggled for numbers this season, unable to field a team in every grade of juniors and this is also the first season without an A Grade men’s team.

There has been a lot of work behind the scenes to keep the club moving forward and Baker’s efforts to get her team into the reserve grade grand final will only help Gladstone stay on track.

Chelsea Baker career highlights

“I’ve had the 60 and 70-year-old boys come up and shake my hand and say how good of a job I’m doing with the boys,” Baker said.

“The grand final will be really amazing for the club. It will hopefully draw in some new sponsors, which we need.

“To win would mean a lot. Everyone got pretty emotional after we won the semi-final because it’s been a long time since we’ve been in a grand final.

“It feels like it’s been a long time coming with Covid and things like that. A few of the players have never made a grand final before. They were all very, very emotional after the game.

“We can’t wait for Saturday.”

Gladstone Wallaby RLFC reserve grade will take on Gladstone Valleys Diehards at Marley Brown Oval from 6.30pm on Saturday, July 23.

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