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Jillaroos in focus: Lock role an open race for World Cup

The final position in the Harvey Norman Australian Jillaroos squad up for grabs is the ever-evolving lock role with several contenders in the frame for selection.

Former Jillaroos lock Tahnee Norris, who has the most Test appearances for Australia with 32, made the position her own for almost two decades after debuting in 1998. 

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: Lock
  • World Cup spots available: 2

Traditionally a squad will take away two specialist lock forwards on tour. However, how do you define a lock's role in this day and age?

Some coaches will use their lock as another middle forward while other coaches opt for an extra playmaker or utility on the field.

In 2017, Jillaroos coach Brad Donald used Zahara Temara and Simaima Taufa at lock throughout the tournament while Lavina O'Mealey and Vanessa Foliaki also chimed in off the bench.

Zahara Temara and Vanessa Foliaki (both middle) after scoring three tries each in the 2017 World Cup.
Zahara Temara and Vanessa Foliaki (both middle) after scoring three tries each in the 2017 World Cup. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The Incumbents

Hannah Southwell (Newcastle Knights) Holli Wheeler (St George Illawarra Dragons)

Knights recruit Hannah Southwell started at lock in the Jillaroos' last Test match against the Kiwi Ferns in 2019.

Southwell played for 62 minutes and topped the tackle count with 40 in her second Test appearance after making her international debut in 2018.

She was replaced by Simaima Taufa, who started the match at pro but moved to lock in the second half with Holli Wheeler also used in the middle coming off the bench.

The trio will all be in contention for World Cup spots again with Taufa, a nine-Test player for Australia, aiming to be selected for her second tournament.

Southwell and Wheeler offer similiar styles to a side but are at different stages of their careers ahead of possible maiden World Cup selection.

Southwell is 23 and has fast become one of the best defensive forwards in the game with her rugged style often on the highlight reels.

Coming off an NRLW and Origin win, Southwell will be looking for more success when she returns to her hometown to play for the Knights later this month.

At 32, Wheeler is playing some of her best footy but her days at the international level could be numbered with the amount of youth coming through the system.

The Dragons forward has successfully returned to the game after an ACL injury in 2020, just months after she made her Jillaroos debut, with an NRLW title and possible World Cup jersey the only two things left for her to achieve.

The Contenders

Aside from incumbents, there are a host of other options for the Jillaroos to use in a lock role.

Eels co-captain Simaima Taufa will again be in the mix to continue on her journey in the green and gold after a mammoth 2021 NRLW season almost saw her claim the Dally M medal.

Taufa is likely to be viewed as a lock for the national side given the influx of props available for selection, although either way she's more than capable of doing a job in the middle.

Maroons young gun Destiny Brill, who has signed with the Roosters for the upcoming NRLW season, has floated between hooker and lock since bursting onto the scene last year.

Brill started at lock in five of six appearances for the Titans earlier this year, averaging 93 metres per game and coming up with a total 35 tackle busts. 

Middle forwards Caitlan Johnston, Sarah Togatuki and Kennedy Cherrington, who all featured in the prop's analysis, are capable of playing at lock.

Johnston showed her impact in the recent State of Origin clash and was 18th player for the Jillaroos in 2019 while Togatuki has showed her versatility in recent seasons either on the edge or in the middle.

Roosters teammate Keilee Joseph is another who can float either on the edge or at lock with the upcoming NRLW a chance for her to continue to build on her maiden season.

With the amount of classy utilities and playmakers available, moving one to accommodate another is also a genuine option for Brad Donald.

Jillaroos captain Ali Brigginshaw showed her ability to play as an extra half at lock for the Broncos in 2020 but has moved back to the No.7 jersey this year.

Roosters playmakers Zahara Temara and Jocelyn Kelleher are others who provide utility value, along with Dragons forward Renee Targett, who will play in her second NRLW season in August.

The Bolter

Broncos forward Sara Sautia made her NRLW debut earlier this year and was one of the side's more consistent performers. 

The Queensland under 19s representative moved to Sydney in 2021 to play in the Tarsha Gale Cup and was later crowned Canterbury's player of the year.

Sautia is a quiet achiever who is expected to get more minutes in her second season at the Broncos after averaging 34.5 minutes in six appearances in 2021.

The 19-year-old was in Queensland's extended Origin squad in June and while she is an outside chance to play for the Jillaroos this year, she is a promising prospect for future seasons.

Broncos forward Sara Sautia is a rising forward in the game.
Broncos forward Sara Sautia is a rising forward in the game. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The Last Word

"There's some great choices at lock for us and we'll definitely look at middle players at either lock or front row, and going back to what we've said previously, being able to play different positions is a big advantage. The lock position has changed but we would be confident to take players who offer different styles and use them best to suit our team. Maims, Hannah and Holli have been there before but we've also got a few players returning and others who have done a job so we'll watch the NRLW season coming up and make a call. - 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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