This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
It’s true what they say – there is no rugby league offseason. No matter the time of year there’s always something to keep us entertained whether it be signing news, announcements from our clubs or movements at rugby league central.
But tonight once the 15th iteration of the Rugby League World Cup has concluded, there won’t be much footy on the field to look forward to until February next year.
From 14 teams in the men’s competition and six teams in the women’s competition, only four remain.
In the first match of the historic double-header at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, the Australian Jillaroos will play the Kiwi Ferns.
In the second match, the Australian Kangaroos will take on the English Rugby League team.
I’ll be in Brisbane tomorrow night for the double-header. The reason that I decided to go is because the first time only happens once and this Rugby League World Cup has had plenty of firsts, particularly in the women’s game.
Here have been some of my favourites.
This was the first time in the tournament’s history that the men’s and women’s competitions have been played concurrently. Long gone are the days where women representing their country had to pay for the honour to do so. It is refreshing to see the men’s and women’s competition on equal footing – this is absolutely how it should be.
For the first time during this tournament people across the world including in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea have had the opportunity to watch the broadcast of the Women’s Rugby League World Cup.
Most importantly, Saturday night will be the first time that a final of a World Cup in both the men’s and women’s competition will be played on the same day at the same venue and when Ruan Sims or Laura Mariu lift the trophy on Saturday night, that will also be for the first time.
Heading into this World Cup, the mandate for the Ferns and the Jillaroos was clear – each team has come to win the World Cup and come Saturday night we will certainly have a matchup on our hands.
Each team has been dominant on their way to the final and has defeated any opposition that they have faced comprehensively.
The Ferns defeated the Canada Ravens 50-4, the Cook Islands 76-0, the Papua New Guinea Orchids 38-0 and England in the semi-finals 52-4.
The Jillaroos defeated the Cook Islands 58-4, England 38-0, the Canada Ravens 88-0 and the Ravens again in the semi-finals 58-6.
Each team’s attack certainly stands out, with the Jillaroos and Ferns scoring at least 30 points in every game they have played.
What’s even more impressive though is the defence, with the Ferns having only conceded eight points so far and the Jillaroos basically on par with 10 (a conversion being the only difference).
So who will come out on top tomorrow night?
For the Ferns, the Jillaroos pose danger all over the field. In their final pools match against the Ravens, back-rower Vanessa Foliaki, centre Zahara Temara, winger Karina Brown and bench prop Elianna Walton all recorded hat-tricks.
Halfback Maddie Studdon may not have scored a hat trick, but she scored one try and managed to set up six tries too.
For the Jillaroos, there is one player in the Ferns line-up that must be contained if they are to win the game.
Honey Hireme has been destructive in every game she has played. She currently leads the tournament with the most number of points scored (44) and the most tries (11).
The final surprise heading into this game will be the Jillaroos squad. Success has brought its own challenges and I certainly do not envy coach Brad Donald and his staff, because some difficult decisions will need to be made.
My first big question – who will play halfback? Caitlin Moran was selected to play halfback in the first two matches of the World Cup and also in the semi-final. However, as mentioned above, when Maddie Studdon got her chance in the No.7, she certainly impressed.
There are also plenty of names in the mix for the outside backs too (including Zahara Temara who is actually a half).
There also remains a question mark over the fitness of Sammy Bremner who has not played during the World Cup due to an ankle injury she sustained in the Interstate Challenge earlier this year. It’s unlikely she will play, but could she be a surprise selection?
Should the Jillaroos win this game, that means that they will have defeated the Ferns on every occasion they have met this year including the Auckland Nines and the Test in May.
I’m predicting a Jillaroos win by 8 tomorrow night.
The accolades just keep coming for Sam Kerr who this week was named as the Asian Football Confederation women’s player of the year. It really has been a remarkable year for Sam Kerr and the Matildas.
For Sam personally, she has scored 11 goals in her last six games as a Matilda, delighted the nation with her backflips and cemented her position as one of the best footballers in the world.