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

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” Benjamin Franklin once said. The sentiment may be squarely in the minds of the Jillaroos when they take to the field at York Community Stadium on Wednesday (Thursday morning AEDT) to kick off their Women’s Rugby League World Cup campaign.

Australia go into this tournament somewhat surprisingly with no warm-up games under their belt, and without having played a Test match in three years because of Covid-19. This is a green and gold squad full of inexperience, with 12 debutants and just five players remaining from their victorious 2017 World Cup-winning side.

Tournament opponents Papua New Guinea, Canada, Brazil, France and the Cook Islands have all prepared with practice matches on UK soil in the past week, with the Moana defeating England Knights 26-14 in Leeds, while the Jillaroos have been bunkered down in a brutal fitness camp in the Gold Coast.

Described as “as one of the hardest sessions any of us have done” by forward Kennedy Cherrington, the Australians have focused inward as the rest of the world guns for them. Winners of the last two World Cups, with New Zealand taking out the three before that, the sixth staging of the tournament is being billed as the tightest yet.

Expanded from six countries to eight, the Jillaroos and the Kiwi Ferns are still expected to again battle it out at the top. Australia will be confident of their chances, on the back of the growth and expansion of the NRLW competition and their enviable depth of talent.

While Test matches might have been sparse since 2019, increasing standards in the NRLW and the rise of the women’s State of Origin series has placed Australia in good stead. Powerful second-rower Kezie Apps, classy fullback Sammy Bremmer and veteran playmaker Ali Brigginshaw remain from the team that knocked New Zealand off in the World Cup final in Brisbane five years ago.

That trio have been named co-captains for the 2022 tournament and are joined by centre Isabelle Kelly and Simaima Taufa from the 2017 side. It is a 24-player squad dominated by the Brisbane Broncos, St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters, with the Broncos and Dragons contributing six players each and the Chooks five. The Newcastle Knights, who won this year’s NRLW grand final, have just two players in the squad in forwards Yasmin Clydsdale and Caitlan Johnston, the same as their grand final opponents’ Parramatta, after prop Millie Boyle and fullback Tamika Upton both pulled out.

The likes of Ruan Sims, Renae Kunst and Nakia Davis-Welsh may be long gone from the international scene but the Jillaroos still have plenty of star power to rely on. There is speed out wide in Julia Robinson and Jessica Sergis, and size up front in Shannon Mato and Shaylee Bent.

Considering the increased professionalism and financial rewards Australia can draw on, compared to the other countries, complacency is perhaps their biggest issue heading into the World Cup. No other nation is blessed with the same advantages or funding resources, with the Jillaroos to receive a payment of $30,000 for this tournament compared to the $3,000 they were paid in 2017.

It is something coach Brad Donald, who was appointed in 2016 and has yet to lose a game since he took over, is well aware of.

“Complacency is going to be a great threat to the team and we’ve spoken a lot about that over the last week and a half,” he said. “This World Cup, compared to the last World Cup, will be miles ahead in terms of competition. There’s a number of emerging young players across all of the nations which is exciting.”

Donald has tried to counter that through his intense warm-up camp and with a rotation policy for the group stages. With Australia playing five games in just 17 days if they qualify for the final, and with World Cup matches to be 80 minutes long instead of the 70 minutes in the NRL, it will be a hard slog.

“We need all 24 players to play for the team to be successful with such a short turnaround,” Donald said. “We’ll see all of our players play in the first two games so I’ve tried to pick two reasonably similar squads. We have a saying that pressure equals diamonds, and all of our players are competing for a spot in the third game against New Zealand, which I’d suggest is the hardest game in our pool rounds and will hopefully set us up for a semi-final.”

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

A date in the final on 19 November at Old Trafford may await them. But for Donald’s charges, the time has come to embrace being high-profile targets in their pursuit of more silverware.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2022/nov/01/australia-face-threat-of-complacency-in-womens-rugby-league-world-cup-title-defence

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