15 Nov 2022
Where the women's Rugby League World Cup final will be won
Australia and New Zealand will face off to decide who lifts the trophy at Old Trafford
By Milly McEvoy
Australia and New Zealand will face off for the fourth World Cup final in a row on Sunday as holders the Jillaroos come up against the most successful side in the competition the Kiwi Ferns.
The showpiece at Old Trafford is a rematch of their bruising group-stage encounter in York which saw Australia come out on top by just two points.
With both sides flexing their muscles in their semi-final victories over Papua New Guinea and England, the final is likely to be a high-class affair.
Here are five areas which will be instrumental in deciding who lifts the trophy:
New Zealand out for revenge
Hell hath no fury like a Kiwi team scorned and New Zealand certainly seemed to channel their disappointment at their narrow loss to Australia into their 20-6 win over England in the last four.
New Zealand had only ever tasted defeat twice before in the World Cup, both to Australia in finals, another stat to add fire to their bellies.
Tarryn Aiken broke the deadlock for Australia when the two sides met earlier in the World Cup and was joined on the scoresheet by her Brisbane Broncos teammate Ali Brigginshaw as Apii Nicholls and Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly scored for New Zealand.
The Kiwi Ferns will be desperate to reclaim the trophy they held for the first three editions, while the Jillaroos know they are one win away from equalling New Zealand with three wins of their own.
How do you stop Hufanga?
Mele Hufanga has only played three matches of international rugby league but she has already taken the game by storm.
The powerful centre was named player of the match in New Zealand’s semi-final against England as she crossed for her third try of the tournament.
? Mele Hufanga!
1 try, 185 metres, 13 tackle breaks.
A semi final performance to be proud of!#RLWC2021 #ENGNZL | @NZRL_Kiwis @bbcsport pic.twitter.com/7Jk9jvXojb
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 14, 2022
The 28-year-old previously played rugby union but has committed to rugby league for 2023 with a spot in the NRLW surely soon to follow her finals appearance.
Australia’s defence will have a tricky task stopping a player who combines pace and power, as she made 13 tackle breaks and 185 metres against England.
Breaking down Australia
So much has been made of Australia’s scoring prowess, and rightfully so, the Jillaroos have scored 258 points across four games at this World Cup.
But there is a startling end to that statistic, they have conceded only eight points, all of which came against New Zealand.
Against Papua New Guinea in the semi-final, Olivia Kernick and Keilee Joseph both put in team-high 27 tackles against the Orchids, with Kernick not missing a single one.
Neither player featured against New Zealand in the group stages, with Kernick not in the squad while Joseph acted as 18th woman.
It is another clear example, as head coach Brad Donald likes to stress, of Australia’s overwhelming strength in depth.
McGregor keeps on delivering
Australia may have strength in depth, brought about because of their domestic competition the NRLW, but it was a Kiwi who was the best player in that competition this season.
Raecene McGregor took home the Dally M Award as her Sydney Roosters side won the Minor Premiership, becoming the first non-Australian to do so and has added another award to her haul this week, becoming the 2022 IRL Women's Golden Boot winner.
?? Raecene McGregor wins the Women's Golden Boot
Backing up her Dally M Award, New Zealand's McGregor has been a standout performer at Rugby League World Cup, including 3 tries and 7 assists.#RLWC2021 | @IntRL | @NZRL_Kiwis pic.twitter.com/rjYpVbIm7v
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 15, 2022
From the get-go at the World Cup, the scrum-half has been pulling the strings for New Zealand, recording four try assists in their opening 46-0 win over France.
The 25-year-old, who was born in New South Wales to Kiwi parents, added two more assists against the Cook Islands also finding herself on the scoresheet twice.
Another assist against Australia and a try against England means McGregor has been involved in the scoring of a try in every game of the World Cup, and you would not bet against her doing it again in the final.
Robinson ready for a repeat
Julia Robinson sits at the top of the try-scoring charts alongside three other players, but she will be looking to make that spot her own in the final.
With England knocked out, Tara-Jane Stanley and Leah Burke cannot add to their tallies, although Robinson's Jillaroos teammate Evania Pelite will provide stiff competition.
The 24-year-old's six tries came in the group stages as she was rested for the Papua New Guinea semi-final, showing how vital she is to Australia’s hopes.
It is no surprise Donald wrapped one of his star wingers in cotton wool, with her late try proving the difference between Australia and New Zealand the last time they met.
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets