Jillaroos prepare World Cup defence
It represented the pivotal moment in the advancement of women's rugby league in Australia and now the next generation of Jillaroos are determined to carry forward the legacy of their 2013 World Cup win.
A squad of 30 gathered on the Gold Coast this past weekend for a three-day camp under new Jillaroos coach Brad Donald and assistant coach Jamie Feeney that served as the first step toward their World Cup title defence next year.
For the first time in the game's history the women's World Cup will be played concurrently with the men's tournament with the two finals to be played at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on December 2, 2017.
The 2013 women's World Cup was the first time that members of the Australian team did not have to dig into their own pockets in order to represent their country and opened the eyes of women such as Kezie Apps to the opportunities that existed in rugby league.
The 2016 Female Dally M Player of the Year was playing OzTag in Bega when the Jillaroos returned as world champions three years ago and set her sights on playing for Australia, a feat she achieved in little more than 12 months.
“That was the moment,” Apps told NRL.com. “I saw them on TV and actually saw that there was rugby league available for women.
“I watched their games on YouTube and thought, 'Yeah, I can do that'. That's how I started.
“Back then when I was deciding whether to play or not I wasn't sure whether I should do it or not, but I didn't want to grow old and think, 'Why didn't I try it'?
“To think that I won the Dally M award this year, imagine if I didn't try it? I wouldn't be in this position at all and my life has definitely changed for the better.”
Fellow back-rower and Queensland Women’s representative Renae Kunst was a member of that 2013 World Cup winning squad and sees that victory as the time when women's rugby league emerged into Australia's sporting landscape, and hasn't looked back since.
The Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns have been fixtures at the NRL Downer Auckland Nines since the concept's inception in 2014 while Test matches between the Australia and New Zealand women's teams now receive free-to-air TV coverage, something that seemed fanciful four years earlier.
“A lot of people have really bought into women's rugby league now and we've got that little bit more respect about our game,” Kunst said.
“Especially with us winning the World Cup in 2013 and that being broadcast to an audience who hadn't seen it before.
“Previous to that we didn't necessarily always have our best team go away because it was user-pay.
“Girls couldn't get the time off from work as well as having to fund a $5000 trip away so it's great to be able to have your very best team going forward and to not have to worry about the expense.”
Five new players were invited to the Gold Coast camp this weekend and Kunst said there is already a great sense of excitement at what 2017 will bring.
“We've been in camp not long at all but just the vibe and the talk, everyone's excited and for me personally, I probably haven't had this feeling for a long time,” said Kunst, who also works in game development in North Queensland.
“It's really, really exciting. I'm getting goose bumps just talking about it because it's exciting.
“We've got a good mix of youth and experience. We've got a squad of 30 so we're going to have that healthy competition where no one is guaranteed a spot and it will come down to the last 17 or 20 people standing who will be playing in a World Cup.”