As seen on NRL.com
The Australian Jillaroos overcame a determined New Zealand Ferns, to win 10-8 in a thrilling Round 3 contest between two powerhouses of rugby league.
The defending champions’ experience was tested on Friday morning (AEDT) in York but Brad Donald’s side hung on for the 80 minutes to finish top of their Pool ahead of next week’s semi-finals.
The Jillaroos conceded their first points of the tournament to their Trans-Tasman rivals, with prop Amber Hall and halfback Raecene McGregor leading a brave Ferns outfit to stake their claim as World Cup Final contenders.
It was the Jillaroos who kicked off proceedings, after a closely contested opening, when a Simaima Taufa offload put five-eighth Tarryn Aiken in close range to weave her way through the Kiwis’ defence and crash over the stripe.
Ali Brigginshaw made no mistake with the boot and a successful conversion saw the favourites lead 6-0 21 minutes into the opening half.
But four minutes later Kiwi halfback Raecene McGregor’s kicking came to the fore when a perfectly weighted grubber was collected by Titans star Apii Nicholls to hand New Zealand their first points of the match.
The Ferns had the perfect opportunity to level the scores before half time but after Brianna Clark hooked the conversion from in front, the Jillaroos led by two points at the break.
After another seesawing start to the second half, New Zealand stole the lead in the 54th minute with centre Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly on the end of a Ferns left side raid.
It all came after an incredible one-on-one steal from rugby union convert Mele Hufanga, who stripped the ball from Sam Bremner and ran 50 metres upfield to hand her Ferns field position. Another missed conversion by Clark left the Kiwis hanging on to just a two-point lead.
But the Jillaroos, trailing for the first time in the tournament, were quick to strike back. Some slick hands saw Brad Donald’s side send the ball down the left side and Julia Robinson crossed the line for her sixth try of the tournament to steal back the two-point lead.
Another try was looking inevitable for the Jillaroos when Shaylee Bent was charging towards the line but Ferns prop Amber Hall produced an incredible try-saving tackle in the 66th minute, crediting New Zealand’s desperation in defence.
However, the Jillaroos held on to their lead until the full-time siren and will head into next week’s semi-final clash against Papua New Guinea undefeated.