Jillaroos eye Auckland Nines redemption
They were blind-sided both literally and figuratively in their first foray at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines in February but Jillaroos skipper Steph Hancock says her team will be much better prepared in 2016.
A three-match series between the Jillaroos and the Kiwi Ferns will again be a feature of the Auckland Nines program after the capacity Eden Park crowd and thousands watching at home were captivated by the ferocity and skill of the female games earlier this year.
In commentary on Fox Sports NRL legend Greg Alexander spoke of the way in which the first of the women's games raised the atmosphere within Eden Park significantly but unfortunately for the Jillaroos they went down narrowly in both games on day one.
Highlights throughout the three games were dominated by bone-rattling tackles by Kiwi Ferns players such as Rona Peters, Laura Mariu and Maitua Feterika but Hancock says that the Aussie girls won't be caught off guard again.
"At least next year we'll be more prepared," Hancock told NRL.com.
"Playing 13-a-side and then jumping on the field and playing Nines, it's a totally different game.
"It's not a game for a front-rower like me but honestly at least this year we've got more of an idea of how it works.
"We thought it was a bit more like touch footy – Sammy Hammond will tell you different (Hammond was crunched in a tackle in Game Three) – but now we might be able to have a little bit of structure to it and understand it a little better rather than run on and think it's touch [football].
"I know a lot of people really talked it up about the women at the Nines and that it brought the atmosphere to the Nines so hopefully we can do that again next year and we can show our skill a little bit better than we did last year."
The Nines represents the start of another busy program for the women's game which will flow straight into the All Stars game at Suncorp Stadium and then the mid-year Test between the Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns.
A host of new faces have been drafted into a larger Jillaroos squad that will be whittled down to 16 prior to departing for Auckland with some exciting young talent emerging at the recent Gold Coast training camp.
Coach Steve Folkes is hopeful that newcomer Allana Ferguson will recover in time from an ankle injury she suffered in camp to be considered for selection while Dally M winner Jenni-Sue Hoepper, Kezie Apps, Brittany Breayley, Karina Brown and Tallisha Harden will all know what to expect.
The women's game has made great strides in the past two years with a major sponsor in Harvey Norman and travel to major events such as the Auckland Nines now paid for by the NRL.
The next step for the game to progress further, according to Hancock, is to invite the elite female players into the sanctum of NRL clubs on a more regular basis.
"If they said we can go and train at our closest NRL club so we've got the facilities to use such as pools, gyms, footy fields, it would probably make it a little bit easier on us girls," Hancock said.
"If you said to any of these girls that we're not going to pay you for the next 20 years, it's not going to change anything. Nothing will ever change but financially helping out with physio or even new running shoes or gym fees, just the little things could be a big help.
"If it never changes it never changes and we'll still play for our country. We used to have to pay to do it. I remember paying $5,000 to go to a World Cup; I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.
"If we are the elite female rugby league players, surely you can sponsor us some shoes or something, just the little things."