Australia’s Rugby League men and women’s teams both fight for World Cup glory at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium tomorrow.
The Jillaroos play arch-rivals the New Zealand Kiwi Ferns in the women’s final; the Kangaroos take the field at 8pm to meet England Lions. It will be the first finals double-header for the code and both matches promise to be fast and furious contests between the world’s best.
The Jillaroos, champions in 2013, showed their speed in their semi-final against Canada, racing to a 42-0 lead by half-time. The Canadians made more of a game of it in the second half but the Aussies still romped home 58-6 in what proved to be little more than a useful pre-final warm-up.
Jillaroos (2013 champions) v Kiwi Ferns (2008 champions)
16:45 AEDT at Suncorp
New Zealand’s Ferns had to work much harder in their match, grinding their way to a 14-4 lead when they headed for the shed, but stamping their authority on the English with 32 unanswered points in the second half for a 46-4 win.
Jillaroos coach Brad Donald told Hatch both teams would have to tailor their preparation to take into account the closeness in ability and style of the opponents. “We’ve got to prepare totally differently. … They’ve been watching our games closely and we’ve watched theirs closely. It will be a really good game.”
If this is your first time watching the top women’s teams, there are three names to follow, all deservedly shortlisted for the award Player of the World Cup.
The winner of the award, New Zealand’s Teuila Fotu-Moala, has been nicknamed the Jukebox by former Kangaroos great Darren Lockyer – because the hits keep coming. Her tackling style is an inspiration to her teammates and will be a crucial element in their game plan.
The Jillaroos’ Ali Brigginshaw, a standout for her playmaking and running game, could inspire her teammates if the Jillaroos forwards go forward to win possession and give her the opportunity to carve up the Ferns’ defence.
The Ferns’ Honey Hireme, who has scored 11 tries in three World Cup matches, similarly has the ability to make her opposition look lethargic. The threat she poses will ensure the Jillaroos stay on their toes.
The Jillaroos star Sam Bremner, dubbed the female Billy Slater, has been injured throughout the tournament and could also make a huge difference – but chances are she’ll remain a spectator for this final. The remaining Aussie backs are no slouches: Nakia Davis-Welsh, Meg Ward, Karina Brown and Isabelle Kelly can all launch damaging counter-attacks raids.
This game between two closely matched teams should be a ripper.
Australian Kangaroos (2013 champions) v England Lions
20:00 AEDT at Suncorp
The contenders had very different semi-final experiences which may point to the likely outcome here. Australia recorded an easy and massive win against the Fijians while England scraped in courtesy of a “no-try” ruling against Tonga’s Andrew Fifita that has landed NRL referee Matt Cecchin in hot water.
Australia is odds on to win this match, but England have the wily old fox Wayne Bennett as their coach. It’s not impossible he could weave some magic to stun Australia as the Kiwis did in 2008 when Bennett was an advisor to then coach Stephen Kearney.
Aussie players to watch are the battle-tested trio of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, with the added fire of Valentine Holmes, a genuine try-scoring machine.
Smith has just added the Golden Boot award (international league player of the year) to his 2017 Origin and Premiership victories. Along with Slater – the leading World Cup try-scorer with 16 tries – and Cronk, that’s a spine for the ages, brimming with the confidence that comes with recent accomplishment. On top of Holmes there are Michael Morgan, who’s been on a hot streak all season, and Josh Dugan. There’s not really a weakness from 1 to 17 in the Aussie line-up.
England may be rank outsiders and underdogs, but they don’t lack firepower while they have the Burgess boys, Sam and Tom, up front along with James Graham. Gareth Widdop has had a great tournament and the right-edge combination of Jermaine McGillvary and Kallum Watkins are easily capable of taking advantage of the smallest lapse.
Sure, Australia should be a shoo-in, but expect England to dig deep and provide determined competition. – Caroline Layt