Thursday 14 December 2017 / 05:54 AM

JILLAROOS HOLD OFF FERNS IN EPIC WOMEN’S TEST

JILLAROOS 16 d. KIWI FERNS 4 @ GIO Stadium

The Jillaroos reclaimed supremacy in women’s rugby league with a well-deserved win in a typically bruising and absorbing Test against a gallant Kiwi Ferns outfit.

THE MATCH: The green-and-golds grabbed the early ascendancy when debutant Isabelle Kelly – a late inclusion for injured fullback star Sam Bremner – scored a stunning 50-metre kick-return try in the 10th minute.

The Kiwi Ferns hit back in the 25th minute after a period of concerted pressure, with winger Atawhai Tupaea crossing out wide. But the Jillaroos landed a crucial blow soon afterwards when 19-year-old five-eighth Zahara Temara followed up her own bomb – which the Ferns fumbled – to score a debut try and give the home side a 12-4 halftime advantage.

The Ferns were camped on their own line for an age after the resumption and they finally cracked as veteran Renae Kunst powered over in the 51st minute.

It would be the last scoring play of the evening. New Zealand regained momentum and had a ton of chances to claw their way back into the match, but Australia’s goal-line defence was outstanding and they held strong to chalk up a gutsy 12-point win to go with their inaugural Nines triumph in February.

While the Jillaroos deservingly took the silverware and plaudits, the match was another glowing example of the giant strides women’s rugby league has made in recent years; it was an awesome exhibition from both sides.

The Kiwi Ferns were magnificent: brutal in defence and enterprising in attack. They had the lion’s share of possession, but a gritty all-round effort from the super-fit Jillaroos – who took their rare opportunities – got the job done.

THE STARS: It’s impossible to single out one player. Kelly was astonishing on debut; aside from her brilliant try, she ran for 160 metres and came up with a string of big defensive plays out wide. Temara and halves partner Simone Smith, who was also on debut, were constant threats. Ruan Sims led from the front, while lock Simiana Taufa-Kautai topped both the tackle count (39) and running metres count (169) for Australia.

On the New Zealand side of the fence, captain and fullback Sarina Fiso was unbelievable. After a few shaky moments in the first half, she did everything humanly possible to inspire a Ferns comeback. She finished with an incredible 226 metres from 28 runs and took over the role of chief playmaker, though halves Georgia Hale and Alex Cook were still superb. Second-rower Teuila Fotu-Moala was a menace of both sides of the ball, prop debutant Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe (103 metres and 22 tackles) was tireless and hooker Krystal Rota (73 metres and a game-high 46 tackles) never stopped.

THE MOMENT: The contest was evenly poised with 12 minutes of the first half left when Temara chased up her own kick and was rewarded with a four-pointer. Points were at a premium with both teams defending so stoutly, and the eight-point buffer gave the Jillaroos the confidence to carry on with the job in the second stanza.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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