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Australia face threat of complacency in Rugby World Cup title defense | Women’s Rugby World Cup


“BIf you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” Benjamin Franklin once said. Sentiment could be all over the minds of the Jillaroos when they take to the pitch at York Community Stadium on Wednesday (Thursday morning AEDT) to kick off their Women’s Rugby League World Cup campaign.

Australia unexpectedly enter this tournament without warm-up games and without playing Test matches for three years due to Covid-19. It’s a green and gold side full of inexperience, with 12 debutants and only five players remaining from the 2017 World Cup-winning side.

Tournament rivals Papua New Guinea, Canada, Brazil, France and the Cook Islands prepared for practice matches on UK soil last week, with Moana beating the England Knights 26-14 in Leeds while the Jillaroos were locked in a brutal fitness camp on the Gold Coast.

Described by striker Kennedy Cherington as “one of the toughest sessions any of us have had”, the Australians focused on themselves as the rest of the world focused on them. Winners of the last two World Cups, with New Zealand having taken out the previous three, the sixth stage of the tournament is seen as the tightest.

Expanded from six countries to eight, Jillaru and the Kiwi Ferns are still expected to challenge for the top once again. Australia will be confident of their chances amid the growth and expansion of the NRLW competition and their enviable talent pool.

Although Test matches have been rare since 2019, rising standards in the NRLW and the growth of the Women’s State of Origin series have put Australia in a good position. Powerful second-rower Kezie Apps, classy defender Sammy Bremer and veteran playmaker Ali Briginshaw remain in the squad that knocked out New Zealand in the World Cup final in Brisbane five years ago.

The trio were named co-captains for the 2022 tournament, joined by center Isabelle Kelly and Simaima Taufa from the 2017 side. It is a 24-man squad dominated by the Brisbane Broncos, St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters, with the Broncos and Dragons having six players each and Chooks having five. Newcastle Knights, who won this year’s NRLW grand final, have just two players in forwards Jasmine Clydesdale and Kaitlan Johnston, the same as their finals opponents Parramatta, after prop Millie Boyle and defender Tamika Upton withdrew from the game.

The likes of Ruan Sims, Renee Kunst and Nakia Davies-Welsh may be long gone from the international scene, but Gillard still has plenty of star power to rely on. Julia Robinson and Jessica Sergis have great speed, and Shannon Matta and Shaylee Bent have top speed.

Given the increased professionalism and financial rewards Australia can draw on compared to other nations, complacency is perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of the World Cup. No other nation has the same benefits or funding resources and the Jillaroos will be paid $30,000 for this tournament, up from the $3,000 they were paid in 2017.

That’s something coach Brad Donald, who was hired in 2016 and has yet to lose a game since taking over, knows well.

“Complacency is going to be a big threat for the team and we’ve talked about that a lot over the last week and a half,” he said. “This World Cup, compared to the last World Cup, will be several kilometers ahead in terms of competition. There are a lot of young players in all countries, which is very exciting.”

Donald tried to counter this with his intense boot camp and group stage rotation policy. With Australia playing five games in just 17 days when they reach the finals and World Cup matches lasting 80 minutes instead of the NRL’s 70 minutes, it will be tough.

“We need all 24 players playing for the team to be successful with such a short turnaround,” Donald said. “We’ll see how all our players perform in the first two games, so I’ve tried to pick two pretty similar teams. We have a saying that pressure is like diamonds and all our players are fighting for a place in the third game against New Zealand, which I think is the most difficult game of our rounds and will hopefully set us up for the semi-final final.”

Gillaro will start with the Cook Islands, then face France on November 6 and arch-rivals New Zealand on November 10. Depending on whether they top Group B or not, they are likely to face either hosts England or Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals.

The final can await them on November 19 at Old Trafford. But the time has come for Donald’s charges to become high-profile targets in the pursuit of more silverware.


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