A late double to Isabelle Kelly has helped the Jillaroos to overcome the Kiwi Ferns in a spirited encounter, 26-24 at Mt Smart Stadium this afternoon.
The Jillaroos continue their dominance against their trans-tasman rivals but the reigning champions didn't have it their own way. New Zealand rallied in the second half, taking the lead late on before Isabelle Kelly's second handed the Jillaroos the game, 26-24.
It was the classic game of two halves. Australia led by Ali Brigginshaw led 12-4 at the break, before a Kiwi resurgence, led by some sterling efforts of athleticism, saw the hosts snatch the lead twice through Maitua Feterika and Amber Kani then a late Isabelle Kelly double saw the spoils head back across the tasman.
In the first half, the Jillaroos were led by an Ali Brigginshaw master-class. First the Broncos halfback sliced through the line, offloaded to Julia Robinson, the winger who had only taken the game up four months earlier, for the 6-nil lead. Brigginshaw added a magnificent solo try to make it a dozen before a whipped ball from Raecene McGregor to Fern's winger Langi Veainu making it 12-4 at the break.
From the opening drop from Zahara Temara, the Jillaroos were on the back foot, New Zealand refused to let them into the contest. Annetta Nuuausala crashed over then a wonderful exhibition of rugby league from Raecene McGregor and Apii Nicholls sent Veainu across for the 12-all scoreline.
As the game opened up, the lead was traded several times. Australia hit back from a tip-on play to Tazmin Gray before the Kiwi Ferns refused to play second fiddle in front of their home crowd on a glorious afternoon for rugby league.
Led by the charging runs of Honey Hireme, the Ferns dominated the ruck, making inroads into the Jillaroos defense. From a piece of inspiration by Teuila Fotu-moala sent Maitua Feterika bursting into a gap, slammed down the ball to once again lock things up.
Coming out of nowhere, the Aussies hit the front again. Isabelle Kelly darted from marker, bumped off one defender going 70+ metres to wrestle back the lead. A rare miss from sharpshooter Chelsea Baker left the door ajar for a Ferns comeback.
New Zealand went to the power game again, bringing due reward. Two powerful rucks opened the space then interchange forward, Amber Kani sped onto the short pass right next to the post. Mt Smart erupted as Nicholls raised the flags, making it 24-22. The Ferns were eyeing a rare and with five minutes to go, deserved victory against the reigning world champions.
Again, Australia went to their game breaker. A restart opened the space, the Jillaroos shovelled the ball quickly to Kelly, the winger dotted down for her double handing the Jillaroos another victory over their trans-tasman rivals, 26-24.
The game wasn't without it's casualities. Kiwi Ferns halfback Kimiora Nati had to be assisted from the field with a leg injury in the first-half then Australian backrower, Kezie Apps, joined her in the second half with a similar injury.