Broncos’ grand final blindside as axe falls on Baker
THE collective jaws of Gladstone rugby league fans dropped on Sunday afternoon after word came through that Chelsea Baker had been sensationally axed from Brisbane's side prior to their NRLW Grand Final victory.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the 33-year-old who has sacrificed blood, sweat, tears and time with her young family to play the game she loves at the highest possible level.
The Gladstone Wallabys' star has had a mortgage over the number 1 jersey for both Brisbane Broncos and Queensland for a number of seasons, so to not see her run out onto Sydney's ANZ Stadium was a shock for many fans.
Gladstone fans voiced their displeasure at the decision as soon as the news filtered through social media and then was confirmed one hour prior to kick off.
Baker's axing was not injury related and speculation remains as to whether she knew of her fate earlier than game day.
Broncos NRLW coach Kelvin Wright said "it was immensely tough" to leave the Australian representative out of his side.
"She's an experienced and big-game player," Wright told NRL.com.
"It was certainly the hardest conversation I've had in my coaching career. She took it on the chin. I'm sure Chelsea will bounce back."
Baker took a glass half full approach to the situation.
"Obviously not how I personally wanted to finish my season but everything happens for a reason," Baker wrote via Facebook.
"I had full faith that my girls would go out there and get the job done today and bloody hell didn't they do exactly that!
"Thank you to everyone for the loving and supporting messages. I'll be back, watch this space!"
One of the more prominent outcries of support came from Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher - a staunch Broncos fan and former head of Gladstone Rugby League.
He has known Baker since his GRL days and said the decision was a cruel one.
"I originally said it was one of the dumbest decisions the Broncos have made but I've changed that to one of the cruellest," Mr Butcher said.
"They've paraded her around in front of media and for promotional material knowing full well she was out.
"It's the cruellest thing you can do to a player … Bringing her along for the ride and in the last hour telling her she's not playing."
While Baker fans can feel hard done by, the decision had a silver lining for Central Queensland.
Baker's omission paved the way for Rockhampton product Tamika Upton to play at fullback, and she produced a player of the match performance in Brisbane's 30-6 win over the Dragons.
Baker was contacted for comment.