As seen on NRL.com
A courageous defensive performance led the Kiwi Ferns to their first victory over Australia in seven years on Saturday afternoon, as they edged past the world champions 12-6 in Melbourne.
With seven minutes to play in a match which saw them spend long periods camped on their own line and enjoy few opportunities in attacking territory, Leianne Tufuga scored her first try at Test level to end New Zealand’s seven-game winless streak against their trans-Tasman neighbours.
From there the Kiwi Ferns did what they had done for the entire game and toughed it out off the ball, denying Australia any right of reply at AAMI Park in the second game of their two-match Pacific Championships series, the first of which saw the Jillaroos run out 16-10 winners.
From the opening exchanges the Jillaroos dominated possession and looked the superior team on the ball, but outside of Jaime Chapman’s opener on 10 minutes, they couldn’t break down the stoic Kiwi defence.
Despite dominating all of the key stat categories through the opening 35 minutes, Australia found themselves heading to the sheds tied at 6-6, with a later-ruled-out claim from Tamika Upton their only action after Chapman’s try out wide.
Dominant as they were, Brad Donald’s side continuously shot themselves in the foot with errors which saw them complete under 40 percent of their first-half sets.
It was a one-on-one strip from Tiana Davison, who had just entered the field from the bench, which gave the Kiwi Ferns possession to send Mele Hufanga over in the final minute of the half.
Another Jillaroos turnover looked to have led to a go-ahead try for New Zealand, but Apii Nicholls’ effort was ruled out when the Bunker found obstruction in the lead up.
As Australia continued to boss time on the ball, New Zealand continued to come up with big plays in defence and turn their rivals away, with the best of them coming 16 minutes from full-time when they rallied to deny Jakiya Whitfeld a try on debut.
Then with seven to play they finally got their breakthrough at the other end, spreading wide for Tufuga to score, with McGregor nailing the sideline conversion.
As the 2023 NRLW season and the Pacific Championships have proven, there is no more dangerous play in women’s rugby league right now than Mele Hufanga with a one-on-one matchup near the line. The Broncos star was always going to score after Tyla Nathan-Wong dropped her under just before the break, with Tamika Upton no chance of stopping the powerhouse centre.