Dally M Medal winner Tamika Upton enjoyed a stunning Test debut as the Harvey Norman Jillaroos downed the Kiwi Ferns 16-10 in Saturday's Pacific Championships opener at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
Hot on the heels of collecting a fourth NRLW premiership and the game's highest individual honour, Upton scored twice and ran for 214 metres to claim the player of the match award and announce herself on the international stage.
After the sides traded errors in the opening exchanges it was Upton racing 40 metres to score in the fifth minute after her skipper Ali Brigginshaw had busted the line and found the No.1 looming in support.
The Kiwi Ferns hit back in the 13th minute when Raecene McGregor put the ball on a dime for Test debutant Annessa Biddle to gather the kick on the full and cross wide out.
Tamika Upton opens the scoring
A mistake by Kiwi Ferns winger Leianne Tufuga close to her own line in the 23rd minute gave the Jillaroos field position and they forced a line dropout thanks to a pinpoint grubber from Tarryn Aiken.
The home side then cashed in when Caitlan Johnston powered over from close range after being on the field for just 60 seconds. Brigginshaw's conversion made it 12-4 to Australia.
With half-time closing in the Jillaroos extended their lead when Upton again chimed into the backline and stood up Georgia Hale to make it a double on debut.
Biddle crosses first for the Kiwi Ferns
The Kiwi Ferns started the second half strongly and they were right back in the game when Mele Hufanga left five defenders in her wake on her way to the tryline to make it 16-10.
Jillaroos hooker Keeley Davis tried to burrow over from dummy half with 13 minutes to play but was denied by some strong goal line defence.
With eight minutes to play and the Kiwi Ferns searching for a try to draw level the ball was spun wide to Apii Nicholls but Jaime Chapman was up to the task and threw the fullback over the sideline.
Nicholls got her own back with a couple of big tackles as the Kiwi Ferns hung tough but they finished the game with 12 players after Biddle was sin binned for a lifting tackle on Brigginshaw.
After losing the World Cup final by 50 points last November, the Kiwi Ferns could take heart from their effort but the Jillaroos have now won 15 Tests on the trot.
Match: Jillaroos v Kiwi Ferns
Week 1 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
- Kiwi Ferns hooker Brooke Anderson left the field in the 26th minute for a head injury assessement which she passed.
- Jillaroos fullback Tamika Upton scored two tries, ran for 214 metres and had three line breaks in a superb Test debut.
- Caitlan Johnston had plenty of impact off the bench for the Jillaroos with 74 metres from eight runs and a try in25 minutes of game time.
- Kiwi Ferns fullback Apii Nicholls left the field for a head injury assessment in the 36th minute which she passed.
- Kiwi Ferns forward Otesa Pule's night ended when she was forced off for a head injury assessment with 13 minutes to play.
Kiwi Ferns haka kicks off the Pacific Championships
- Tyla Nathan-Wong has now represented New Zealand in five sports - tag football, touch, rugby sevens and rugby union and rugby league.
- Jillaroos winger Jaime Chapman was placed on report for a hip drop tackle in the 58th minute.
- Kiwi Ferns centres Shanice Parker and Mele Hufanga combined for 34 runs and 326 metres while Hufanga had 17 tackle breaks.
- Kiwi Ferns co-captain Georgia Hale came up with 45 tackles and missed only two.
- Kiwi Ferns winger Annessa Biddle was sent to the sin bin in the final minute after a dangerous tackle on Ali Brigginshaw.
Play of the Game
Down by 12 points at the break the Kiwi Ferns needed to make a statement and it came through powerhouse centre Mele Hufanga in the 44th minute. Hufanga took an inside pass from Tyla Nathan-Wong and powered past five Jillaroos defenders with a lethal mix of speed and footwork to cross for a crucial try. On the back of an impressive NRLW season in which she had 14 line breaks and 71 tackle breaks, Hufanga proved unstoppable from close range and the Kiwi Ferns were back in business.
Mele Hufanga Try
What They Said
"The more pressure the Kiwis put us under, the clunkier we got in attack. It was very similar to the game we played in the pool stages at the World Cup last year [which we won 10-8]. We'll be better off for the run, it has been 12 months since they have played together, but all credit to the Ferns for one of their better performances over the last few years. As the team starts to settle in and we play to our strengths it's going make for a really good contest down in Melbourne in two weeks' time." - Jillaroos coach Brad Donald
Jillaroos: Week 1
"We started quite slow but the players responded which is a massive plus for us. I think we'll get better as we play more games. The desire to not let each other down is a trait we are trying to instil in our group. I thought we worked for each other tonight. Scrambling in defence is a sign of a team that wants to work hard for each other. Mele [Hufanga] has been awesome all year and she showed that again tonight. She showed that she is up there with the best centres." - Kiwi Ferns coach Ricky Henry
Kiwi Ferns: Week 1
The Kiwi Ferns are in action against Mate Ma'a Tonga in Auckland next Saturday while the Jillaroos have a week off. In week three the Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns meet again at AAMI Park in Melbourne.