Murphy hat-trick inspires Jillaroos
A hat-trick to debutant Mahalia Murphy has carried the Jillaroos to a well-deserved 22-14 win over the Kiwi Ferns in the Women's Test match at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.
Midway through the second half the game was very much in the balance at 10-all before Murphy scored twice in the space of eight minutes to secure a win for the home side and exact some revenge for last year's heartbreaking loss in Wollongong.
The Kiwi Ferns did score the final try of the afternoon with hooker Sharnita Woodman crossing with two seconds left on the clock but it failed to mute the celebrations of the Jillaroos whose only previous win over New Zealand was in the World Cup Final in 2013.
Murphy's debut was as eye-catching as the performance of five-eighth Jenny-Sue Hoepper who dictated play superbly as well as coming up with some crucial defensive plays in the second half.
Coming out to the second half with a six-point lead, the Jillaroos were forced to play without fullback Sam Hammond who suffered a suspected broken fibula in the first half and was unable to return, Murphy shifting from centre to fullback.
After Hoepper opened the scoring in the sixth minute Murphy scored her first 10 minutes later and then the pair combined to break the deadlock with 16 minutes left on the clock.
Running the ball on the last tackle, Hoepper drifted across to the right where the Kiwi Ferns defence was thin and found Murphy coming back on the angle, powering through three would-be tacklers to cross wide out.
But the best was yet to come as she showed a clean pair of heels in a 65-metre dummy-half run in the 72nd minute that gave the Jillaroos a 12-point advantage that they were able to defend.
Named player of the match, Murphy said she could never have dreamed of making such a scintillating debut in the green and gold.
"No, but it happened and I guess it all comes from hard work and working well in the game and being where I have to be and doing my job so I'm pretty happy with my performance," Murphy said.
"I've just started playing fullback in the last year. I got pushed into the centres [for this game] and didn't really mind and still worked hard in the centres.
"Unfortunately 'Sammie' (Samantha Hammond) got pushed out of the position due to injury but I'm hoping I did that position well and did what I could."
The Jillaroos took a 10-4 lead into the half-time break but not before holding off a late surge from the Kiwi Ferns who were looking for the equaliser.
The Jillaroos had much the better of the early exchanges and after absorbing some early pressure from the Kiwi Ferns posted first points in the sixth minute through five-eighth Hoepper.
With two sets deep in Kiwi territory the Jillaroos stretched the defence on the right edge before Hoepper got the ball in the centre of the field, stepped off her left foot and crossed under the posts.
Although they made an error in the set after scoring, the Jillaroos defence held firm and extended their lead to 10 points in the 16th minute.
Having come close to scoring through Renae Kunst on the play prior, Ali Brigginshaw grubbered into the in-goal with the ball evading chasers from both teams before Murphy got her hand on the ball just before the ball went dead in-goal.
With the back row of Kunst, Kezie Apps and Ruan Sims causing the Kiwi Ferns problems on the edges, the Jillaroos were largely in control but the three-time world champions soon worked their way back into the contest courtesy of a try to winger Shontelle Dudley in the 24th minute.
Halfback Rona Peters appeared certain to score under the posts before she was brought down by Jillaroos fullback Hammond but when the ball was quickly shifted to the left from the next play the Jillaroos defence was caught short and the Kiwi Ferns reduced the margin to six points.
One of the highlights of the first half was the defence of Kiwi Ferns back-rower Teuila Fotu-Moala who came up with two spectacular hits that rocked the Jillaroos girls, Darren Lockyer nicknaming her 'The Jukebox' "because the hits just keep on coming".
Hoepper, Murphy, Apps and Heather Ballinger were the best performers for the Jillaroos with Fotu-Moala, Peters, captain Laura Mariu and Maitua Feterika the pick for the Kiwi Ferns.
Jillaroos 22 (Mahalia Murphy 3, Jennie-Sue Hoepper tries; Hoepper 2, Ali Brigginshaw goals) def. Kiwi Ferns 14 (Shontelle Dudley, Maitua Feterika, Sharnita Woodman tries; Laura Mariu goal) at Suncorp Stadium.