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Jillaroos in focus: World Cup wing spots up for grabs

The battle for the wing spots in the Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos squad is expected to heat up ahead of the rescheduled World Cup with a mix familiar faces and rising stars in contention.

Jillaroos coach Brad Donald has plenty of thinking to do around who will make up his backline with players who have done the job before on the edge and rookies who are making a splash in the NRLW among those ready to step up.

In a 10-week editorial series, 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: Wing

Likely World Cup spots available: 3-4

A breakdown of the squad usually means around three specialist wingers will be taken on tour but across the board usually a couple more players are more than capable of playing on the edge.

In the 2017 tournament, Donald used retired Jillaroo Chelsea Baker, Karina Brown and Meg Ward on the wing while Nakia Davis-Welsh and Corban Baxter were also capable of covering an edge in the extended squad.

The Incumbents

Shakiah Tungai (Broncos) and Tiana Penitani (Eels)

Former Dragons winger Shakiah Tungai and Parramatta centre Tiana Penitani made great first impressions on international debut for the Jillaroos in 2019.

However, with the three-year break between international matches and the emergence of other stars, their positions on the wing could be under pressure.

Tungai scored a try, kicked three goals and showed off her freakish attacking skills in Wollongong as both wingers fired against the Kiwi Ferns three years ago.

Plenty has happened since then, however, with Tungai taking a year off in 2021 to mentally reset and travel around Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic restricted her movements.

Tiana Penitani all smiles after the Jillaroos set up a try in 2019.
Tiana Penitani all smiles after the Jillaroos set up a try in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

She returned to the field this season in Illawarra club rugby league and will join the Broncos for the 2022 competition, leaving the door slightly open for her to keep her spot.

Penitani has transitioned to the centres in recent seasons at the NRLW level but in representative matches for NSW has performed strongly on the wing and will still likely come under heavy consideration to retain her spot.

The 26-year-old’s defence against the Kiwi Ferns was enormous in 2019 and included a try-saver early in the match.

The Contenders

There are a host of players who will be in the running for World Cup spots in 2022 with specialist wingers and versatile players who can float anywhere in the backline to come into contention.

Let’s start at the Broncos.

Representative star Julia Robinson is in a similar position to Tiana Penitani where she made her international debut on the wing for the Jillaroos in 2018 but has since been playing in the centres.

Robinson missed the 2019 Test match due to injury but has returned in recent years and has been producing consistent performances for both the Broncos and Queensland.

Robinson’s match-up with the likes of Jess Sergis or Isabelle Kelly at Origin on June 24 could dictate whether she is viewed as a winger or centre option for the Jillaroos later in the year.

Broncos teammate Emily Bass has burst onto the scene this year with four tries in five appearances in the NRLW.

Her centre partner Shenae Ciesiolka started off her Broncos career on the wing and could also come into contention as an option later in the year.

Former rugby sevens stars Emma Tonegato and Evania Pelite, may also fall under this category given their versatility capabilities in the backline while Jaime Chapman floats between centre and the wing at the NRLW and representative levels and is also a genuine option.

Titans winger and two-time World Cup champion Karina Brown is the most experienced player of the group with eight tries in 11 Tests for the Jillaroos.

The 33-year-old has enjoyed a resurgence in her career over the past two seasons with a final World Cup campaign not out of the equation.

The Bolter

Teagan Berry (Dragons)

Another strong NRLW season from Dragons winger Teagan Berry could have her in line for a Jillaroos debut by the end of the year.

The young gun made her NRLW debut in 2020 but it was earlier this year that she relished the opportunity to play in a side that was willing to throw the ball out wide.

Dragons winger Teagan Berry is one to watch in the second half of the year.
Dragons winger Teagan Berry is one to watch in the second half of the year. ©Brett Costello/NRL Photos

Berry’s speed and finishing abilities are among her strongest asset while she’s proven to be safe under the high ball.

The Shellharbour junior has starred for NSW at an underage level and is currently in the mix for a State of Origin debut on June 24.

Regardless of whether she pulls on the sky blue in that match, another strong NRLW season could well and truly have her in the frame for an international debut.

The Casualty List

Brydie Parker (Roosters)

A player who would’ve been in World Cup contention but unfortunately will be sidelined for the remainder of the year is Roosters winger Brydie Parker.

Parker had a bittersweet finish to her side’s NRLW premiership win with the winger rupturing her ACL in the grand final.

Originally identified at a talent identification day on the Gold Coast in 2018, Parker has come on in leaps and bounds at the Roosters and at only 22, she can set her sights on the 2025 World Cup in three years’ time.

Brydie Parker leaves the field in the NRLW grand final after rupturing her ACL.
Brydie Parker leaves the field in the NRLW grand final after rupturing her ACL. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

The Last Word

"There a lot of options for the wing spots. We want players who are versatile but more importantly can help get us out of our end with strong carries and are just as good defensively as they are at finishing. You can throw a lot of the centres in with the wingers for the backline spots. We aim for about six between both positions. We've got the issue of too many fullbacks so what we'll do is take a winger who can also cover fullback and the other way as well, take a centre who is capable of playing on the wing too. All those players mentioned are certainly in the mix." - Jillaroos coach Brad Donald.

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