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Past meets present as Jillaroos prepare to defend their title

Although it will be a new-look Jillaroos squad that boards the plane bound for England this Sunday, all the Australian players involved in this year’s Rugby League World Cup will know the history of those who have helped them get to where they are.

They don’t have to look far either, with five players in co-captains Ali Brigginshaw, Sam Bremner and Kezie Apps, as well as stars Isabelle Kelly and Simaima Taufa, involved in the 2017 triumph in their squad.

There are also three players in Brigginshaw, Bremner and 2021 season Dally M winner Emma Tonegato who featured in the ground-breaking 2013 victory in England, where Australia defeated tournament favourites and defending champions New Zealand to halt their 13-year reign.

Jillaroos coach Brad Donald has also invited past players who have been key contributors to the growth and development of the program into camp to share their experiences as well.

“We have Goose in (Karina Brown), and this is credit to Goose, she really wanted to be in this team, and she was one of the first people I rang and she said, ‘coach, I get it, lots of good players, good luck and let me know if there’s anything I can do’ and she’s reaching out and saying ‘here’s some stuff you should show the girls while they are in camp’,” Donald said.

“I say, ‘I actually want to get somebody to come in and talk about the significance of (our training venue) and she’s just nailed it and she’s ‘this is where we found out we were getting our first pay … and this is where we had this person and this person speak to us and these are the people who trained here’ and so that was really cool.”

Despite some high-profile withdrawals from the squad in the lead-up to their pre-departure camp, the Jillaroos will enter this year’s tournament with plenty of expectation as they boast a team brimming with talent.

There are 13 debutants who have worked their way into the side, forcing Donald and his fellow selectors to leave out some of the team’s former incumbents.  

“It’s just shows you the state of the game,” Donald said.

“I have said this a number of times about the work that people are putting into the pathways, the state leagues, the NRL, the grassroots clubs; because as the top of the game has exploded, so has the bottom as well, it’s just reward for all of that hard work.

“We’re at a situation where we had to put 40 girls on a list and it was difficult to get 40 names on a list because there was more than 40 (who could be selected), so to then narrow it down to 24 was extremely difficult.

“(But) I have to say that I am excited about all of (the debutants) getting an opportunity, some of the younger ones that are going to be debutants feel like they have been around and in the program for a number of years.

“People like Caitlan Johnston, she hasn’t debuted yet, so excited to see her pull the jersey on for the first time and run out and really lead from the front; she’s mature well beyond her years.”

Caitlan Johnston at Jillaroos training.
Caitlan Johnston at Jillaroos training. ©Lauren Pritchard / Australian Jillaroos

Donald said all players in the squad would be called upon and would need to contribute if the Jillaroos were to repeat their success.

“We actually need everybody, that’s one of the great things about having depth, is that we know we have picked a team based on everyone is going to need to contribute to World Cup success,” Donald said.

“It might mean that some players play one game, two games, might mean a couple of players have to play all the way through and play five games, but we just have to get the balance of that right, so we have got the best team for each of our opposition, and we are competing for semi-final, final spots as we move through the stages.

“The team is named 1-24, similar to the men, in terms of numbering and it’s a really great chance for us then to say, every jumper is up for grabs, every position in every game.”

Jillaroos coach Brad Donald in camp.
Jillaroos coach Brad Donald in camp. ©Lauren Pritchard / Australian Jillaroos

Preparations overall are going well for the side’s first overseas tournament in years, with the Jillaroos competing in Pool B alongside tough opposition in Cook Islands, France and New Zealand.

As well as short turnarounds and colder weather, the Jillaroos draw has them playing all their matches at 7.30pm local time, with night games a shift from the norm for many of the players.

“We experienced that at the Prime Minister’s game, for some of the girls, Origin was the first time where we have really experienced that,” Donald said of the later time slots.

“As part of the preparation, we do have to make sure they do some training or the captain’s run at the time we are playing so they get to experience those conditions.”

The Jillaroos will play their first game against Cook Islands in York on Thursday, November 3.


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