Australia pushed to limits in narrow win over New Zealand at Women’s Rugby League World Cup

Australia pushed to limits in narrow win over New Zealand at Women’s Rugby League World Cup

Australia will face Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals of the Women’s Rugby League World Cup after edging out New Zealand 10-8, thanks to Julia Robinson’s late try in a tantalising tussle in York.

The two old rivals locked horns in north Yorkshire to determine who would top Group B and avoid hosts England in the knockout rounds, in one of the most anticipated match-ups in either the men’s or women’s tournaments.

A see-sawing fixture did not disappoint. The defending champions, who had racked up 166 points and not conceded a single try in their first two games, were pushed fully to their limits but eventually emerged triumphant by a single try conversion after a brutal and thrilling encounter.

The Jillaroos had to be patient and bide their time against a brave Kiwi outfit, who stood tall and went set for set with their trans-Tasman neighbours. While their unbeaten defensive record might have gone, Australia showed character to fight back and grind out a priceless victory that has them now in the box seat to reach the final at Old Trafford on 19 November.

Without a doubt it was a scare that showed they are fallible and rubbished any claims of World Cup success being a divine right.

Coming back into the starting line-up after being rested in the win over France was the key troika of Sammy Bremner, captain Ali Brigginshaw and Kezie Apps. Australia needed their star power back after walkovers against the Cook Islands and France, as this was anything but easy.

Only brilliant cover defence from New Zealand stopped the Jillaroos opening the scoring in the second minute. The Kiwi Ferns spent the first four minutes camped on their own try-line, but somehow managed to keep Australia at bay. The barrage didn’t stop, though, with the Australians forcing goal-line dropouts and building set after set in their opponent’s half. The plucky Kiwis refused to crack, and marched the Jillaroos downfield to launch their own attacks.

It was a bruising, high-quality opening quarter and the first real test Australia had faced in this tournament. Finally the deadlock was broken in the 19th minute when Tarryn Aiken twisted out of two tackles to reach out and score.

Brigginshaw stepped up and nailed the conversion to make it 6-0. However, New Zealand were far from overawed and 11 minutes later they hit back through Apii Nicholls.

A bouncing kick from Raecene McGregor bamboozled the Australian defence and fullback Nicholls pounced. A poor conversion attempt from Brianna Clark from right in front hit the post and missed, leaving the Jillaroos two points ahead.

Uncharacteristic errors from Australia meant they were unable to extend their lead in the first half. With the match delicately poised, the second half began with a Kiwi Ferns knock on from the kick off. It was the worst possible start though would not define them, as only an outstanding one-on-one tackle from Bremner stopped Kateyln Vaka’aholo from crossing on the flank.

It was tight, tense before the contest completely turned in the 54th minute after a brilliant ball steal from Annetta Nu’uasala on Bremner. She was pulled down close to the line, but in the next tackle they shifted the ball left quickly and Autumn Rain Stephens-Daly touched down out wide.

Clark crucially couldn’t add the extras, but the Kiwi Ferns had poked their noses ahead 8-6. Pressure grew on the misfring Australians as the clock wound down, until Robinson replied on the flank.

With 19 minutes left the winger crossed from Jess Sergis’s pass to edge the Jillaroos back in front. Lauren Brown took the kicking tee but her attempt hit the crossbar.

Time was running out for New Zealand and there was to be no late comeback in the climactic final minutes. However, the takeaway remains that the clunky Jillaroos have clearly been put on notice, that this World Cup is no walkover and that they will need to be much better to take the trophy back home with them.