Timely World Cup auditions for Jillaroos debutants
A trio of Jillaroos debutants have put in three commanding auditions for further Test honours in a key World Cup year.
Halves pair Simone Smith and Zahara Temara plus winger Isabelle Kelly were each outstanding in a 16-4 win over the Kiwi Ferns at GIO Stadium on Wednesday night, handing coach Brad Donald a welcome headache moving forward.
Kelly was late call-up after fullback Sam Bremner suffered a head knock in the captain's run with Queensland fullback Karina Brown shifting from wing to the back and the Central Coast product made it count.
She scored one stunning solo try from a kick return and racked up a massive 160 metres, which was bettered on the night only by hard-working Jillaroos lock Maima Taufa (169 metres) and Ferns skipper and fullback Sarina Fiso (226 metres).
"I trained all week with the squad and I wasn't sure if I was going to play, it literally came down to [Thursday] night when Sam got injured," Kelly told NRL.com after the win.
"Because I was unsure if I was going to play, that's why I played with my heart out there and especially for Sam, it was a freak accident, I wanted to show them I could do the job."
Kelly said a trial match a week earlier had helped her prove to the coaching staff she was ready to step up ahead of the end-of-year World Cup.
"That's when I kind of proved myself to the coaches but to go out there and play my game was great and it's going to be helpful for the World Cup," she added.
Donald said while losing the experienced Bremner was a blow, he had no reservations in handing a debut to Kelly nor on shifting Brown to fullback.
"We lost Sammy in the captain's run [on Thursday] in a really unfortunate incident and it was gutting for her and gutting for the team but one of the things we know is we had a superstar in the making ready to come on and she proved that," Donald said.
"Karina Brown's played fullback for Queensland for a number of years and is a very astute fullback and she proved that tonight."
Temara told NRL.com that even when she got told she was going to make her Test debut she didn't expect it would be starting. Like Kelly, Temara hoped Friday's match would boost her claims for a World Cup berth but knows she plays in a position where the Jillaroos are currently spoiled for choice.
"I always dreamed of playing in this jersey but I didn't think it would come so soon and I want to thank the coaches for believing in me," Temara said.
"I didn't think I'd be ready, I thought I still had a couple of years to go but they believed in me and gave me the confidence I needed to play.
"I want to try [and make the World Cup squad] but it's going to be a lot of hard work. There's six halves that are fighting for those positions, we're all going to fight and push each other and whoever gets it gets it."
Of her maiden Test try – which she snatched after Fiso fumbled a bomb – she insisted she owed her fullback Brown an apology.
"It was actually not my try it was my fullback's, she had it in her hands but I ripped it out! She set me up," she laughed.