Test preview: Jillaroos versus Kiwi Ferns

This article was first written for and published by The Roar

When the Kiwi Ferns beat the Australian Jillaroos 17-15 in the final of the World Cup Nines last weekend it was the first time the Jillaroos had lost a game since 2017.

There was some disappointment from Aussie fans after the defeat and potentially some shock given the Jillaroos’ recent success, but given the quality of rugby league played by both teams, I left the tournament with confidence that the women’s game has such a staunch rivalry and plenty of competition for our Aussie women.

The importance of this shouldn’t be taken for granted given what we’re seeing in the women’s cricket space at the moment. As a result of the sizeable investment that Cricket Australia has made in the women’s game, the gap between Australia and the rest of the world continues to widen. The biggest challenge this poses is that little competition makes it hard to improve.

We do not have this problem in rugby league, which sets up a thrilling match this evening.

The rivalry between the Jillaroos and the Kiwi Ferns will be reignited tonight in a Test match in Wollongong.

There will certainly be extra spice in this game given the Jillaroos’ shock defeat last week and because of some of the key match-ups between women that have developed friendships in the NRLW. This is common in the men’s game but is something the women are still getting used to.

Take Ali Brigginshaw and Raecene McGregor, who were the halves pairing for the premiership-winning Brisbane Broncos team. These two will face off against each other tonight.

Broncos NRLW 2019 premiership

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Many of the Ferns have also played plenty of rugby league in Australia, including the likes of Nita Maynard, who is very close to Botille Vette-Welsh, and Kiana Takairangi, who is best friends with Corban McGregor.

There are some very exciting players set to make their Test debuts in this game as well.

While Millie Boyle has represented Australia in rugby union, she is set to make her Test debut after an outstanding maiden season, which has seen her play State of Origin for the New South Wales Blues, line up in the Broncos’ premiership-winning team and earn a nomination for the Dally M female player of the year.

Tiana Penitani is another potential debutant after an outstanding campaign for the Dragons.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Charntay Poko play given that she has hit the rugby league scene only this year. Across the entirety of the NRLW, the kicking game was the area that improved the most, with Poko being a leader in this space. Almost every time she kicked the ball she forced a result, and she will be looking to do the same on Friday night.

One thing to keep an eye out for is the 80-minute format of the game.

Annette Brander is tackled

(AAP Image/David Rowland)

Those who watched the NRLW will be used to 60-minute fixtures. However, given this is a Test match, the rules are governed by International Rugby League, so the women will play for 80 minutes.

Both teams have plenty of experience playing this format, but it will certainly be a step up in intensity for many women who are used to playing 60 minutes in the NRLW. Watch for fatigue in the later parts of the match.

This will certainly bring in the forwards and it is a space the Jillaroos will need to step up in given the international retirement of Heather Ballinger and experienced campaigners Elianna Walton and Steph Hancock missing out on selection. The Jillaroos will be looking to Boyle and Chelsea Lenarduzzi to plug this gap.

What excites me about this contest is how familiar so many of the Kiwi Ferns players have become for Aussie fans because of how these players lit up the NRLW. Names like Jules Newman, Krystal Rota and Charntay Poko have become very familiar to us.

Almost every member of the Kiwi Ferns and Jillaroos squads have featured in the NRLW this year. The Kiwi Ferns will be bolstered by the inclusion of Honey Hireme. Hireme missed the whole NRLW season due to family reasons.

The match-up between Hireme and Dally M female player of the year Jessica Sergis is set to be one of the most exciting of the evening.

I’m predicting a Jillaroos victory tonight but by only the smallest of margins. This Test match will be another step in the right direction for women’s rugby league and will continue what is becoming one of the fiercest rivalries in the game.