Women's Rugby League World Cup: Australian Jillaroos hold off gallant New Zealand Ferns to win final

YOU could fairly expect that after winning the World Cup, Australia's coach would be nothing but bullish about the proposed women's NRL.

Instead, JIllaroos boss Brad Donald offered a word of caution on the burgeoning plans following Australia's 23-16 win over New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium, secured in the final minute with former Muswellbrook Public School student Caitlin Moran’s field goal.

Donald said a sudden expansion of the women's game with too many club teams could leave girls new to the sport in danger of injury and that the standard may not be high enough for spectators.

"One of the things we need to see is that if we've got a national competition, people want to watch it and the girls have worked hard - like these girls have - to get there and earned their right to be a part of it," said Donald.

"The girls understand the responsibility to make sure we don't just put 16 teams worth of women into NRL jumpers. There's girls like the ones that played today who have worked their backsides off to make sure they're strong enough, they don't get injured, they treat the game professionally.

"When the NRL figures out what the talent pool is like, then we'll be able to tell you how many teams are in the competition in the next couple of years.

"One of the goals was to win the World Cup but a greater goal was to inspire young girls to play footy so that one day we can see an NRL competition ... we're not too far away."

eports suggest a small, four-week season during the NRL finals next September. New Zealand coach Tony Benson said a Warriors side was a must.

"It's well overdue - I think from the standard out there, you can see that," he said. "Whether there's a New Zealand team in it, we don't know. But that would be the ideal, that would be perfect.

"When you look at it, the money's not going to be like the men's. It's unlikely people are going to relocate families [to Australia]. For it to work, I think we are going to need a New Zealand team."

Donald reckoned a Warriors side was ready to go and said he supported the idea.

The Kiwi Ferns dominated long stretches of Saturday's game, only for a couple of passages of play to go against them.

When they received a stripping penalty at 22-16, they rushed the play and fumbled. When they had the Aussies on the back foot earlier, the kicked dead.

The opening try came from the Jillaroos, however. Fullback Nakia Davis-Welsh delivered a nifty out-ball for centre Isabelle Kelly to score in the south-eastern corner as crowds filed into Suncorp. Moran converted.

In the 11th minute, a superb cut-out pass from centre Corban McGregor gave Kiwi Ferns veteran Honey Hireme a try in the corner, converted in Mal Meninga toe-poke style by halfback Kimiora Nati.

In this period, the Ferns dominated possession, pinning the Jillaroos in their own territory. From a scrum win in the 20th minute, Hireme scored again. 

A turning point came when New Zealand's Ngatokotoru Arakura made a blockbusting run, leaving a trail of defenders in her wake, only to be brought down a couple of metres short. But the good work was undone by a poor end to the set, a kick going dead.

The Jillaroos then marched up the field easily and with the Ferns on the back foot, Moran stepped deftly past three defenders to score. She converted her own try and the Aussies were back in front for half-time.

It took a while, but in the second half the Australians grabbed the game by the throat. First, five-eighth Ali Brigginshaw took the ball to the the line on the western side and kicked ahead, with a fortuitous bounce allowing Kelly to post her second try.

When replacement Elianna Walton crashed over with 23 minutes to go, the Australians had one hand on the trophy. The decision was sent upstairs to ensure she had grounded it safely. She had.

But a grandstand finish was assured when big Krystal Murray offloaded with one hand as she held defenders at bay with the other for McGregor to score a converted try with 10 minutes left. The conversion from Kimiora Nati was good and the Kiwis pounded the Australian line; centre Shontelle Woodman lost the ball over the line in the south-eastern corner two minutes later.

"I had a cry out on the field but now I'm happy as buggery," said Stephanie Hancock, who confirmed she would go ahead with retiring from international competition despite casting doubt over the decision on TV.

AUSTRALIA 23 (Isabelle Kennedy 2, Caitlan Moran, Elianna Walton tries; Moran 3 goals, field goal) defeated NEW ZEALAND 16 (Honey Hireme 2, Raecene McGregor try; Kimiora Nati 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium.