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Jillaroos in focus: Four-way battle looms for No.6 jersey

The race for the all-important five-eighth spot is on with at least four key contenders vying to lock in the No.6 Australian Jillaroos jersey at the 2021 World Cup in November.

The upcoming women's State of Origin clash next week and second NRLW season of the year will play a crucial role in who Jillaroos coach Brad Donald opts to go with in his halves.

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: Five-eighth

  • Likely World Cup spots available: 1-2

The key positions in the halves should see around 3-4 playmakers in the squad overall with the five-eighth spot considered flexible to how coach Brad Donald wants to play.

Donald used Ali Brigginshaw for the entire tournament at five-eighth including the 2017 World Cup final, where she partnered returning halfback Caitlin Moran in the halves for most of the campaign.

The Broncos captain has moved to halfback in recent seasons while she also enjoyed a successful stint at lock in 2020.

The Incumbent

Kirra Dibb (Newcastle Knights)

Newcastle playmaker Kirra Dibb is the incumbent Australian five-eighth and has endured a rollercoaster three years since making her debut for the Jillaroos in 2019.

The 24-year-old burst onto the scene that year, helping NSW to a State of Origin win before representing the Roosters in the NRLW and Australian Prime Minister's XIII side.

It was from there she earned a Test match call-up and produced a positive international debut in green and gold, setting up two tries and booting 300 kick metres in the win over the Kiwi Ferns.

Knights playmaker Kirra Dibb, on debut here for Australia in 2019, is the incumbent Jillaroos five-eighth.
Knights playmaker Kirra Dibb, on debut here for Australia in 2019, is the incumbent Jillaroos five-eighth. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Her combination with Ali Brigginshaw in their one and only Test match together was strong as the halves contributed with four try assists between them.

However, Dibb's journey hasn't been as smooth sailing since then. She was overlooked for Origin matches in 2020 and 2021 and almost went without an NRLW contract earlier this year before picking up a last-minute deal at Newcastle.

She's since signed another extension at the Knights and has been playing some of her best footy at lock with North Sydney in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership.

Whether a move to the forwards becomes a permanent thing remains to be seen but for now the Indigenous All Stars representative continues to push for rep selection in the halves. 

Dibb is set to get another chance at the Origin level next week after being recalled to the Sky Blues side for their clash against Queensland on June 24, where she can pusher to keep her spot in green and gold with a strong performance. 

The Contenders

There are a couple of players putting their hand up to challenge Dibb for the five-eighth spot, none more than Queensland pair Tarryn Aiken and Zahara Temara, who have been impressive at five-eighth in recent years.

Aiken is the likely favourite for the starting spot given her combination with Ali Brigginshaw at the Broncos and State of Origin level has flourished, while the Tweed Heads local continues to development in the No.6 jersey.

Aiken had a taste of international footy when she was called in late to the Jillaroos' World Cup 9s squad in 2019 after Tamika Upton withdrew from the squad due to work commitments.

The 22-year-old has a strong running game on the left edge, scoring two tries in the recent NRLW season, but overall she was restricted to just one line break and no try assists in an area that she'll look to improve in the upcoming 2022 campaign.

Temara showed her capabilities at five-eighth during the Roosters' recent NRLW win, where she partnered Kiwi Ferns playmaker Raecene McGregor in the halves.

The 24-year-old looked more potent alongside a more dominant halfback at the Tricolours and given her international experience in Australian colours (Five Test matches) she is a handy option to have in a squad. 

Other contenders include Roosters playmaker Corban Baxter, who has floated between the five-eighth and fullback role in recent years. 

Returning NSW veteran Sam Bremner is also capable of playing at five-eighth if required and could come into calculations.

The Bolter

Taliah Fuimaono (St George Illawarra Dragons)

Dragons playmaker Taliah Fuimaono has put herself into the World Cup frame after a solid start to the 2022 season where she represented the Indigenous All Stars side in February before locking in the five-eighth spot at the Dragons.

Fuimaono produced four try assists and had six line break assists during the 2021 NRLW season in a fine maiden campaign but she hardly kicked during the competition with Rachael Pearson doing much of the work with the boot.

A broken collarbone while playing for Mounties in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership has denied her a chance to push for State of Origin selection, but another big NRLW season in August could prove too hard to ignore.

Fuimaono was born and raised in western Sydney but played for Fetu Samoa in 2019 through her father's family bloodlines.

Dragons playmaker Taliah Fuimaono is a bolter for the Jillaroos.
Dragons playmaker Taliah Fuimaono is a bolter for the Jillaroos. ©Joshua Woning/NRL Photos

The Last Word 

"We want a bit of stability in the halves but are also mindful that we only have four days between games in the regular rounds of the tournament so we'll have to manage players and their workloads, especially coming off another NRLW season at the end of the year. I would like at least one of the halves to remain throughout the campaign like Ali did last time but we'll just have to wait and see. There are some great up-and-coming halves coming through in the game. Tarryn Aiken has really excelled since coming across from touch and players like 'Z' and Kirra have done it before at that level. We've also got plenty of others who are capable of playing at five-eighth and can do a job if needed." - Jillaroos coach Brad Donald.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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