Selflessness behind Jillaroos' halves switch
Jillaroos coach Brad Donald's decision to roll the dice on two debutant halves paid dividends in a 16-4 win over the Kiwi Ferns on Friday night but it hinged on two demoted senior stars helping their replacements step into the team.
Maddie Studdon and Allie Brigginshaw were surprise bench names when the team was unveiled with uncapped Queensland pair Simone Smith and Zahara Temara named to start after impressive early season form through All Stars, Nines and trials.
"We've spoken about that all week – to have two rookie halves, we wanted to show faith in those two and we also wanted to show faith in the two incumbents," Donald told NRL.com.
"All of them participated and they're going to push each other all the way to the World Cup so it's an exciting time for the Jillaroos.
"Maddie and Allie, they had to deal with a bit of disappointment not getting chosen in the original team.
"What they did all week was supported those two girls and helped them guide the girls around the paddock and that's what we want to create in these girls, we want to create a squad of 30 or 40.
"They understand now they need to do that – push one another, help one another and that's just shown in their performance."
That extended squad will be a huge benefit in a World Cup year with five or six top-line halves currently jockeying for two starting positions.
As the match unfolded Brigginshaw ended up playing over 60 minutes, largely in an edge back row role, while Studdon replaced Smith after 50 minutes and finished out the game.
Temara, who played out the 80 and scored a try on debut in a fine all-round performance, was quick to thank the senior halves for their help through the week.
"Credit to Allie and Maddie because they were the two other halves here, they really helped us out," Temara told NRL.com.
"We were real nervous, it was a bit hard being debutants and coming into the team and trying to order people around, especially being real young but they really gave us some pointers and helped us out."
The effort was even more impressive given the two playmakers had never combined at any level before.
"We haven't, this was our first time playing together," Temara said.
"We played against each other in All Stars but she was half and I was centre. It was a big week for us to try and get our flow going."
While the side did enough in scoring three tries to win the game, the attack has plenty of room for improvement; the goal-line defence however was outstanding under a mountain of second-half pressure.
"We weren't great in attack and we've certainly got a lot of improvement in us there," Donald said.
"It's not just the defence, it was we kept working on the inside, the girls kept showing up for one another. The Kiwis kept offloading the ball, they brought a whole different dynamic to their game to what we saw in New Zealand and for us to keep showing up is what won us the game."