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Jillaroos in focus: Edge back-row battle an open race

The battle for an edge back-rower spot in the Jillaroos side is officially open with several putting their hand up to feature at the World Cup in November. 

With a changing of the guard across the Jillaroos forward pack, versatility will play a key role in determining who travels to England for the tournament. 

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: Second row
  • World Cup spots available: 4-5

Traditionally a World Cup squad will carry at least five players capable of playing on the edge with Jillaroos coach Brad Donald already indicating he will look towards versatility when picking a squad.

In the 2017 World Cup spots in the back-row were competitive with the likes of Kezie Apps, Renae Kunst, Vanessa Foliaki, Talesha O'Neill (nee Quinn) and Annette Brander among those vying for spots on the edge.

Kunst, a Jillaroos legend, went out a two-time World Cup winner following the tournament, finishing her career on a high.

For the remaining players, they are still running around today.

Foliaki has just signed a deal with Parramatta after 18 months away from the game while O'Neill returned to the field through Newcastle’s Harvey Norman NSW Premiership side this year after giving birth to her first child.

Talesha O'Neill and Kezie Apps celebrate with the World Cup trophy in 2017.
Talesha O'Neill and Kezie Apps celebrate with the World Cup trophy in 2017. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos


Kezie Apps (Dragons) Annette Brander (Titans) Tallisha Harden (Broncos)

Dragons captain Kezie Apps has been a mainstay in the Jillaroos line-up since 2015 with 10 Tests to her name ahead of a possible second World Cup appearance in November.

Despite moving to the front row under Jamie Soward at the Dragons this year, Jillaroos coach Brad Donald is unlikely to follow a similar path with the NSW captain with Apps set to remain on the edge in green and gold.

Apps, 31, is coming into the twilight period of her career is one of the most recognisable faces in the women’s game.

Broncos back-rower Tallisha Harden played her second game for Australia in 2019 after a long four-year journey back to a green and gold jersey due to injury.

She scored an important first half try against the Kiwi Ferns in her return game and continues to excel at the Broncos on the right edge of the field.

Broncos forward Tallisha Harden made an impact returning to the Jillaroos in 2019.
Broncos forward Tallisha Harden made an impact returning to the Jillaroos in 2019. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

A head knock made for a disruptive Origin appearance but another strong NRLW season at the Broncos will keep her well in contention for a maiden World Cup appearance.

Former Dragons and Broncos forward Annette Brander is making a return to the NRLW via the Titans in August after a long lay-off from syndesmosis surgery last year saw her miss the 2021 season.

Brander is another player who has been part of the Australian team since 2014 but out of the three incumbents mentioned, she is probably most under pressure to retain her Jillaroos jersey.


There are host of players putting their hand up to form the second row with versatility again going to be an advantage for players if they’re going to be able to provide value either on the edge or in the middle.

At the Titans, feisty back-rower Tazmin Gray last represented Australia in 2018 but hasn’t been part of the Jillaroos set up since her debut due to injuries and the lack of internationals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gray wasn't at her best in the recent Ampol State of Origin clash but has the runs on the board and will come into contention at season's end.

Titans teammate Tiana Raftstrand-Smith is another young gun likely to be on the radar for higher honours in the future after two matches for Queensland already at just 19.

Raftstrand-Smith has the potential to play in the back-row, centre or halves, making her versatility a big advantage for the tournament if selected.

Newcastle recruit Yasmin Clydsdale is a unique case of versatility with the edge back-rower also capable of playing in the centres or on the wing, as she did in the recent Origin fixture for NSW.

Clydsdale (nee Meakes) transitioned to rugby league from the sevens circuit in 2020 and would be a very handy player to have in the World Cup squad with her power and speed particularly on the left side of the field.

NSW and Indigenous All Stars representative Shaylee Bent has put herself in the frame for Jillaroos selection after getting back into the Origin side in June following a strong NRLW season for the Dragons.

Bent has signed on for another season in the Red V and similiar to Raftstrand-Smith has the versatility to play in the centres or even the middle if required.

Dragons teammate Talei Holmes is another, while the the edge forward is also eligible for Fiji, who will push for World Cup inclusion in 2025.

At the Roosters, new recruit Shaniah Power can push her case for selection with a strong showing at her new club while Keilee Joseph, who featured also in the front row feature a fortnight ago, can also play on an edge.

Parramatta edge forwards Christian Pio and Ellie Johnston and Broncos back-rower Kaitlyn Phillips are also likely to come into contention.


Olivia Kernick (Roosters)

A tall-rangy forward coming through the Roosters system, the Central Coast product hit the ground running in her first NRLW season with three tries in seven appearances.

Kernick won a premiership in her maiden campaign but what impressed most was the 21-year-old’s presence on the edge as the Roosters gained momentum.

NSW coach Kylie Hilder handed Kernick an Origin debut in June and with another NRLW season on the horizon, a repeat campaign could see the dual All Stars representative don the green and gold.

Olivia Kernick with Roosters teammate Keilee Joseph.
Olivia Kernick with Roosters teammate Keilee Joseph. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The Final Word

"Similar to the middle forwards we mentioned, anyone who can play multiple positions will have a big advantage with selection, going back to us having only four-day turnarounds between games. If we can pop a back-rower into the centres or into the middle of the field at some stage in a game it will be beneficial for us. We also have our specialist back-rowers who can hit a hole and really get the opposition playmaker one-on-one. There's a really exciting group of players to choose from." - Jillaroos coach Brad Donald.

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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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