Ali Brigginshaw defied the doubters last year to claim player of the match honours in the Rugby League World Cup final and she continues to wind back the clock, with Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos coach Brad Donald saying the veteran halfback had played in arguably her best season this year.
The most experienced member of his squad for the upcoming Pacific Championships with 21 appearances so far for her country, the Jillaroos co-captain - aged 33 - finished equal third on the Dally M player of the year tally and also took home the halfback of the year award for her role in helping to guide the Brisbane Broncos back into the finals.
“It's probably her best season in the NRLW to be fair, she was named Dally M halfback of the year,” Donald told reporters at the naming of the Australian squads this morning.
“She's been a great captain for the team for a long while and I think she's matured into a really good club captain and a great Jillaroos captain.”
Brigginshaw will again share the captaincy honours with Kezie Apps, who helped hold the World Cup trophy aloft last year, with Donald and the selectors showing loyalty to the majority of players who played their part in helping Australia win their third consecutive Women's World Cup title – despite some strong claims from rising youngsters, including Newcastle half Jesse Southwell.
“There was consideration for many players and if you look through that list, there's some pretty big names there that (have missed out); (but) there's 18 of the 24 from the Rugby League World Cup and that was a seamless campaign last year, the girls did amazing things on-and-off the field,” Donald said.
“There's actually some players that missed out from that World Cup tour … (Southwell) was considered with a number of other players and as the chairman (Peter V’landys) would back up me on, there was a lot of sturdy discussion around the selectors' table about who was in and who wasn’t.
“The fact that the players come from nine out of 10 clubs, I think all of those players came back from the World Cup and were great this year in the NRLW.
“Even if we looked at their recent form – obviously there's a fair bit of loyalty and we know what the jersey means for all those players that have been there and what their character’s like and how they behave off the field, which is really important for us in the Jillaroos, so that's taken in (to consideration), and that's probably the main factor and then their form and what they're capable of doing.”
However, Donald and the selectors did have one eye on the future, naming three debutants in the squad, including two-time Karyn Murphy Medallist and recently crowned Dally M player of the year Tamika Upton, with Donald keen to plan ahead for a busy international schedule against strengthened competition.
Tamika Upton's 2023 Dally M reel
“(The NRLW) expansion's been sensational, and it'll really light up the international stage,” Donald said.
“I think we're going to see some of the great names playing for Samoa and Tonga, the Cook Islands, PNG. All those nations are represented in the NRLW, so I think both the NRLW and international rugby league are working hand-in-hand to grow the game and I think we're going to see some awesome matches in the coming weeks.
“(Brigginshaw’s) going to help us through the transition over the next couple of years; this is the start of a four-year cycle through to the next World Cup.
“Age is just a number, but she's playing like a 25-year-old; but we will see, she'll be part of that transition process over the next four years.”