Losing any Test match hurts but Jillaroos coach Brad Donald says the Kiwi Ferns’ upset victory in Melbourne is clear proof that the international game will become even more competitive in the years ahead.
Having coached Australia to an undefeated World Cup title last year, Donald said he expects Australia to be continually challenged on the international stage after his side went down to their Trans-Tasman rivals for the first time since 2016.
“I was just talking to Neil Henry after the game and we were saying how I think in the early days of us taking over and working with a team we made sure we were fitter, faster, stronger,” Donald said on Saturday.
“But now the athletes are the same across the teams and it’s going to make for some really interesting competition over the years with Tonga, Samoa, PNG and Fiji as well.”
The Ferns pinned their faith in a new-look side ahead of the Pacific Championships, unveiling a number of Test debutants in hope to end a seven-year drought against the Jillaroos.
The winning moment: Tufuga
And after the youthful Ferns side grinded their way to a 12-6 victory on Saturday, Donald believes the Pacific Championship upset shows how far the women's game has come and expects to be continually challenged in years to come.
“Both teams are coming off NRLW seasons and the Ferns have played a couple of games coming into this game so were really starting to gel and I think definitely the rugby league IQ in our players gets better every year,” he said.
Jillaroos: Week 3
“It’s definitely making our job harder at the elite level but it’s a great thing for NRLW and for women’s rugby league.”
The longest-serving Jillaroo in Donald's squad, skipper Ali Brigginshaw said she also took heart from the growth of the competition this year after losing in the green and gold jersey for the first time in seven years.
“I’ve been playing for a while and you can see the standard has definitely gone up across the board and you saw that with how the Kiwis were coming together after a couple of games,” Brigginshaw said post-match.
“Even today, both of those games against the Kiwis have been really tight, there’s only been a couple of tries in it.
“And all the other nations are very strong. Watching those games, the standard has gone up and it’s crazy how those other games are playing out.”
Kiwi Ferns captain Georgia Hale said she was proud to lead the squad to a defining win, having last tasted success over the Jillaroos when she was named player of the match in 2016.
All tries from Jillaroos v Kiwi Ferns
"I speak on behalf of the playing group that I'm just so proud of our effort, there was a lot of desire and desperation in some of our efforts there," Hale said post-match.
"I think the Pacific Championship overall has been a great contribution to our game and to see nations competing at a high level and a spread of NRLW players representing their home countries.
"It was nice to see the Jillaroos on two occasions and I’m extremely proud of the way we finished our campaign."
Match: Jillaroos v Kiwi Ferns
Week 3 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne