Jillaroos vow to run Kiwi Ferns ragged
They admitted to being caught out when they debuted at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines two years ago but senior members of the Jillaroos say they are taking a squad and style purpose-built to beat the Kiwi Ferns in 2017.
The Jillaroos and the 15 Australian-based NRL clubs will fly into Auckland on Thursday afternoon for a weekend of celebration of rugby league that kicks off with community visits and a fan day on Friday before getting down to business at Eden Park on Saturday.
The introduction of the three-game women's series has proven to be wildly popular with fans over the past two years but it has been the hometown Kiwi Ferns who have claimed the honours 2-1 on both occasions.
Where the original Jillaroos Nines team consisted predominantly of players who represented Australia in the 13-a-side game, this year's squad features a number of fresh faces to make up for the absence of some of the team's most experienced players.
With a World Cup at the end of the year and a busy campaign in the coming months, an arm injury will see captain Ruan Sims stay back in Australia, joining the likes of Steph Hancock and Heather Ballinger who will miss the Nines for the first time.
In their place are Isabelle Kelly, Amelia Kuk, Caitlin Moran and Simaima Taufa who fullback Sam Bremner says will contribute to the fast style of play the Jillaroos want to play under new coach Brad Donald.
"To be honest, yes I think we will," Bremner told NRL.com when asked whether the Jillaroos would unveil a style more suited to Nines football.
"We will be a lot faster. No disrespect to the girls that have played in previous years but [this squad] has been picked with people that best suit the Nines game rather than just taking Jillaroos.
"We're going to be a lot faster, we're going to be using the ball a lot more instead of our bodies because it is an exhausting game and we're going to be using that footy to make the Kiwis work because we know they don't entirely appreciate working too hard.
"We're going to be definitely doing that and playing to our strengths."
Bremner and Brittany Breayley are two of six Jillaroos playing this weekend who have participated in both previous editions where the women have featured at the Auckland Nines and for Breayley the squad has a different look to it.
As the Jillaroos' No.9 Breayley has become accustomed to having Hancock and Ballinger by her side but is confident the likes of Kezie Apps, Renae Kunst, Kody House and Simaima Taufa can match the Kiwi Ferns in the middle.
"This year we've got a smaller, faster, fitter team. We've still got a bit of size there so hopefully we can get it done," Breayley said.
"We're hoping we can play our game which is the faster game but the Kiwis have always been strong in their defence.
"They're able to fight us and wrestle us to the ground and keep us down for a lot longer so that takes away the fastness of the game for us.
"Hopefully with all the training that we've done we can really improve on that."
Kody House played on the wing for Queensland in last year's interstate challenge at Cbus Super Stadium but will be used as a forward at the Nines, a task Bremner has no doubt she will handle against the big New Zealand team.
"She's strong. When we were playing our Origin game she was one of the hardest people to tackle," said Bremner.
"She will go really well there and I think that's why we've got so much confidence within our squad.
"You can almost put anyone anywhere and you know they will get the job done because of how much the jersey means to them."