Joey's Immortal endorsement for Jillaroo
The rugby league world learned that the hits are just as big in the women's game at the Auckland Nines but it is the skill of one of the Jillaroos that has captured the attention of Immortal Andrew Johns.
Following the Women's All Stars game on the Gold Coast in February Johns headed downstairs to congratulate Ali Brigginshaw on another terrific display and told NRL.com that her skills and instincts epitomise the aspects of the game he tries to pass on to young halves that he now coaches.
"I've seen her play three or four times. All the principles I try to teach the halves, she was already doing," Johns said.
"She understood timing, space, when to pass, when to run. She was a natural footy player.
"After they played before the Four Nations game in Wollongong last year I shook her hand and said, 'It was a pleasure to watch you play.'"
In terms of rugby league endorsements it is among the highest compliments any player could receive and Brigginshaw admitted ahead of Friday's Test against the Kiwi Ferns at Suncorp Stadium that it is somewhat surreal to receive such recognition from one of the greats of the game.
"He came down after my first game, I think it might have been an Origin game, and said that he loved watching me play. Every time, he always comes up to me no matter where I am," Brigginshaw told NRL.com.
"It's huge. Sometimes I'll be like, Are you sure you were watching me?
"He loves how I direct people around the field and said that's what I should be doing. That it's great to see a woman dominating her outside players and stuff."
Watching Brigginshaw play does take appreciation of the women's game to another level. Effort and passion has never been in question for girls who juggle their rugby league commitments around full-time work or study but Brigginshaw plays like a footballer should, regardless of gender.
She can dissect a defence, create space for her outside supports and has a double dose of a quality that all good playmakers possess; time.
She took the Jillaroos to within two minutes of defeating the Kiwi Ferns in Wollongong last October and then against the Women's Indigenous All Stars scored a try herself and combined superbly with back-rower – and player of the match – Kezie Apps on the right edge.
Bulldogs legend Steve Folkes played and coached in more than 500 NRL games for Canterbury over a 30-year period and said it became clear when he took over the reins of the Jillaroos last year that Brigginshaw was his on-field general.
"It's one thing to be a rugby league player but it's another to understand the game and be able to direct and dictate," Folkes said.
"I guess playing half or five-eighth she's been doing that for quite a while so that's probably the thing that sets her apart from some of the others. That she understands the game well and is able to organise and sees things in front of her that a lot of them don't see.
"The girls' game is evolving and you've got your girls that really understand the game and you've got your girls that are learning to understand the game.
"I would hope she is still learning but she is a good leader around the field, she knows where we should be and what we should be doing."
Ali's father Larry Brigginshaw was a decorated halfback with Brisbane Easts in the early 1980s, touring England in 1983 with a Queensland team that included Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Gene Miles and Paul Vautin and was coached by the great Arthur Beetson.
"Dad also played seven so he was very dominant when he played. He always says, 'Don't stand back, you're the one that's in charge out there,'" says Brigginshaw.
When his daughter showed an interest in playing rugby league he signed her up to play locally with Norths in Ipswich but it was a commitment that came with a use-by date as girls were not permitted to play with the boys beyond the age of 12.
"I knew it was coming. I was devastated and I'd still go and watch my boys that I used to play with," said Brigginshaw. "I used to go every week and watch them and I still go and watch them now. Some of them play on TV so I still follow them but I always think, Why couldn't I just keep playing. I'm sure I'm strong enough to keep playing."
The good news for girls with a love of rugby league now is that the number of under-age competitions are growing each and every year and that their heroes are the best in both the men's and women's games.
The Jillaroos play the Kiwi Ferns in the main curtain-raiser before Friday night's Anzac Test. Kick-off is at 5.20pm and tickets are available from just $30.