The 2020 Western Women's Rugby League under 18s title race was blown wide open a week ago.
And Jes Pearson and the Vipers are ready to pounce.
Defending premiers the Wiradjuri Goannas dropped their opening game of the new season against the Castlereagh Cougars last week, the 26-16 result stunning many involved in the women's game in western.
Sensing an opportunity to emerge as a contender this year, Pearson and the Vipers showed their class in a 28-18 victory over the impressive Cougars in Orange.
The under 18s competition has been dominated by the Vipers since the competition's inception but Pearson says after the club dropped last year's decider to the Group 11-based Goannas they're hungrier than ever to go one better in 2020.
Saturday's 10-point victory over the Castlereagh girls indicative of that desire.
"I think the grand final win would be the goal," Pearson said.
"Definitely making it that far first, but I think the girls are playing well enough and enjoying the physicality of a different code of football to go all the way."
Lilly Baker ... she runs the ball so hard.- Jes Pearson on her Vipers teammate.
The Goannas bounced back after their shock round one loss with a 46-4 victory over the Midwest Brumbies, while the round's other clash was won 36-10 by Woodbridge over Panorama.
Like the rest of the competition, Pearson says the Vipers girls have enjoyed returning to play contact rugby league after a shortened league tag season in Group 10 due to COVID-19.
She says experienced players like Tabua Tuinakauyvadra and Kiara Sullivan have led the black and teals well over the opening two rounds but it's a couple of the new girls that are turning heads.
"Lilly Baker, she's adapted well and runs the ball so hard," Pearson said.
"She's always a stand-out, but in general all of the girls are playing well. I think we've all enjoyed the physicality of it this year."
The Vipers senior squad also enjoyed a strong win in round two, bumping out their unbeaten run after the commanding 68-10 triumph over the Cougars.
Marty Lyden's Vipers are the defending premiers and Pearson said there were a number of the under 18s girls pushing to be part of that successful open's squad.
Junior stars like Tabua Tuinakauyvadra are already making an impact in the top grade.
"A lot of the girls are going well and would be able to make the step up," the young fullback said, adding the competitive nature of the under 18s title race will ensure the Vipers remain on their toes in 2020.
"I didn't play first year when the girls won that grand final, but I came on board the year after and I did notice after that lots of teams came out hard against us.
"The Goannas was one of those sides, but I think they've lost a few players to the open's side now, girls like India Draper."
The Vipers and Cougars split the lower two age divisions, with the former winning under 14s 38-0 while Castlereagh recorded a 32-20 victory in under 16s.
The Vipers host the Midwest Brumbies at Pride Park on Saturday.
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