Kiwi Ferns pip Jillaroos in a thriller
A 79th-minute try to second-rower Teuila Fotu-Moala has given the Kiwi Ferns a 12-8 comeback victory over the Jillaroos at WIN Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Having conceded their World Cup crown to the Jillaroos last year, the New Zealanders went into the half-time break down 8-0 but exacted some revenge when they scored three unanswered tries in the second half.
The comeback began when interchange forward Hilda Peters was the recipient of a supreme cutout pass from five-eighth Laura Mariu in the 43rd minute that opened the Australian left edge and reduced the deficit to four.
But having played the perennial bridesmaid to the Trans-Tasman counterparts for the best part of the past decade, the Jillaroos looked headed for a comfortable victory as they dominated field position and possession for most of the second half.
However the match turned when Ferns halfback Rona Peters failed to find touch after a 55th minute penalty, which she followed with a brutal hit on Australian winger Deanna Turner that sparked a mini-brawl.
Momentum continued to turn when New Zealand second-rower Charlotte Scanlan made a 30-metre break through the centre of the field, a burst that was followed by a 70th-minute try to winger Atawhai Tupaea that levelled the scores and set up a grandstand finish.
And it was Fotu-Moala who sealed the comeback win, running off a short ball by bench hooker Chloe Leaupepe close to the line.
The Kiwi Ferns began the curtain-raiser with an extended version of the haka, but it was the home side that came out with fire and brimstone when props Steph Hancock and Heather Ballinger combined to send New Zealand's Lilieta Maumau careering in the opening hit-up of the game.
Play was stopped for two minutes as Maumau recovered from the ferocious hit.
The visitors went further on the back foot in the 9th minute when Australian fullback Sam Hammond used her lightning speed to get outside a retreading Ferns defence on the right edge to post the opening try of the afternoon.
New Zealand then fought their way back into the match and had a supreme opportunity to hit back when centre Honey Hireme saw daylight down the left flank in the 27th minute.
But Hammond, once dubbed the female Billy Slater by none other than Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens, showed the Kiwi touch footy rep the sideline before pulling off a textbook cover tackle into touch.
Australia advanced their lead on a controversial penalty try just on half-time, when Ferns winger Maitua Feterika illegally tackled Roos centre Jenny-Sue Hoepper in-goal before she could attempt to catch a Maddie Suddon cross-field kick.
Jillaroos five-eighth Ali Brigginshaw missed the sideline attempt, leaving the home side with an 8-0 advantage at halftime.
Jillaroos 8 (Hammond, Hoepper tries; goals) defeated by Kiwi Ferns 12 (H. Peters, Tupaea, Fotu-Moala tries; goals). Half-time: 8-0.