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Jillaroos in focus: Fullbacks in line for World Cup selection

One of the most competitive positions in the Australian Jillaroos line-up for the World Cup will be who wears the No.1 jersey with at least five star contenders in the frame for selection.

Jillaroos coach Brad Donald has a luxury of players to choose from to play fullback after a strong NRL Telstra Women's Premiership.

In a 10-week editorial series, NRL.com takes a look at who is in contention for a World Cup spot in the Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos by position, thanks to leading partners Harvey Norman.

Position Overview: Fullback

  • Likely World Cup spots available: Two

Traditionally teams will carry two specialist fullbacks in a 24-player World Cup squad while some members of the backline should also be capable if an injury or two strikes while on tour.

In 2017, Donald used former Jillaroo Nakia Davis-Welsh and Corban Baxter at fullback while Sam Bremner was part of the squad but never played a game due to injury.

The Incumbent

Corban Baxter (Roosters)

The Roosters NRLW captain was last fullback for the Jillaroos in the 2019 Test match and was a strong contributor to the side’s 28-8 win over the Kiwi Ferns.

Baxter, a seven-Test capped Jillaroo, ran for a game-high 176 metres at the back that afternoon and has never let anyone down at the international level.

However, the 28-year-old has had an interesting three years since her last appearance in the green and gold with a shoulder injury impacting her 2018 season and a move in recent years to the halves.

Incumbent Jillaroos fullback Corban Baxter.
Incumbent Jillaroos fullback Corban Baxter. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Baxter is eager to cement herself as a five-eighth in the game but only as recent as the 2021 NRLW grand final in April she was starring as a fullback in the Roosters’ win over the Dragons.

Capable of playing anywhere in the backline, her versatility would be handy for Jillaroos coach Donald but overall there will be some heavy pressure on her to hold down the No.1 jersey with the calibre of players available in that position.

The Contenders

There’s at least five classy fullbacks including Baxter who could come under consideration for the two spots in the squad while there are a host of outside backs who also have fullback capabilities if required.

Rugby sevens convert Evania Pelite has had two strong NRLW campaigns in the centres and at fullback, giving Brad Donald flexibility if he selected her.

Pelite has been a star attraction since switching to rugby league two years ago with her ability in open space and defensive capabilities putting her in the top echelon of players in the competition. 

The form of her former sevens teammate, Dragons fullback Emma Tonegato, in her first NRLW season earned her Dally M medal honours with the pair a possible chance at reuniting in a different green and gold jersey at season's end.

After being part of the Jillaroos' 2013 World Cup triumph, Tonegato's return to the national side would be a full circle moment.

The Olympic gold medallist finished her first campaign back in rugby league with four tries, six line breaks, three try assists and 27 tackle busts in just seven appearances.

All eyes will also be on former Broncos fullback Tamika Upton at the back end of the year as she pushes for her maiden Test jersey.

Upton's Jillaroos story is a fascinating one to start with. The Rockhampton junior turned down an approach by Brad Donald to be part of the Australian World Cup Nines campaign in 2019 due to work commitments.

She has since gone on to become one of the elite fullbacks in the game with her recent decision to sign with Newcastle an intriguing one to watch as she prepares for a different challenge in a new side only months out from the tournament.

The Bolter

Sam Bremner 

There’s one person you can’t write off to possibly end up in a Jillaroos kit by season’s end and that’s Test veteran Sam Bremner.

The mum-of-two returned to the game in April after her second child and has looked sharp playing for Cronulla in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership.

Former Jillaroos Test fullback Sam Bremner is back on the field.
Former Jillaroos Test fullback Sam Bremner is back on the field. ©NRL Photos

Bremner is tipped to land at the NRLW club in August and from there she can push her case for a Jillaroos jersey, where she hasn’t let anyone down previously.

Remarkably, Bremner hasn't played for the Jillaroos since 2015 due to a freakish run of luck with injuries, including two broken legs, a concussion the day before a Test match and ankle and toe injuries.

It's also meant Bremner is yet to play under Donald at the national level despite the veteran outside back featuring in his extended squads in the past five years.

The Casualty List

Botille Vette-Welsh (Eels)

Spare a thought for NSW and Australian representative Botille Vette-Welsh, who ruptured her ACL while playing for the Eels in the NRLW in April.

Vette-Welsh would’ve been right there in the mix for World Cup selection, if not one of the first selected for the Jillaroos, but instead she’ll be looking to get back on the field in 2023.

Vette-Welsh played for the Jillaroos as a bench utility in 2019, a spot that could she proved carrying an extra outside back on the interchange, possibly even an extra fullback, could be an option.

In brighter times: Botille Vette-Welsh representing the Jillaroos in 2019.
In brighter times: Botille Vette-Welsh representing the Jillaroos in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The Last Word 

"There are some great choices for us at fullback, and every player that plays at the back offers different strengths. Some players are great with kick returns and make plenty of yardage because they have the speed to carry the ball back. Others are very good at organising their defensive line or are safer under the high ball and you know you can rely on them.

"Whoever we go with will tick a lot of boxes but I think the best part about the women's game is there's so much versatility available. Those players you've mentioned are capably of playing anywhere in the backline if we need." - Jillaroos coach Brad Donald.

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