The Jillaroos and five other teams will battle it out for the Rugby League Women’s World Cup later this year. (ABC: Brittany Carter)
Sydney’s Sutherland Shire will become the home of women’s league this summer as the Jillaroos aim for back-to-back world titles.
Today marks just 100 days till the Rugby League Women’s World Cup kicks off in Cronulla, to be held as a standalone tournament for the first time.
Brittany Carter tweets The @AusJillaroos giving new meaning to ‘arriving in style’. Bumpy ride for the Women’s @RLWC2017 trophy. #WRLWC2017 #WomeninLeague
The 40 players named in the Australian squad are largely made up from a New South Wales contingent.
And while a chance to represent your country is the carrot for many athletes, these 19 players will have extra reason to push for a starting spot.
Every match will be live on television in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, but to wear the green and gold jersey in their home state would put the icing on top of a fantastic year for some of these footballers.
When the Blues put an end to Queensland’s 17-year dominance in the annual Interstate Challenge last year, the feat saw women’s rugby league gain an increase in media exposure, funding and professionalism.
The sport has since become one of the fastest growing aspects of league at grassroots level, especially in NSW country towns.
After her team defeated Queensland for the second time this year, NSW half-back Maddie Studdon told the ABC it was pleasing to see so many of her Blues teammates selected.
“It’s coming up pretty quick and the squad announced is pretty talented,” she said.
“To see so many NSW girls get in makes us really proud and we’re ready to get into camp and give it our all.”
A Woolooware High School product and former Cronulla-Caringbah player, Studdon said Shark Park was the perfect location for fans.
“There’s going to be a lot of support with local friends and family,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful location, to have it in NSW is the perfect spot for women’s rugby league and come November it’ll be nice and sunny.”
Half-back Maddie Studdon (2L) and skipper Ruan Sims (3L) will be leading the charge for the Jillaroos at the World Cup. (ABC: Brittany Carter)
No quarter given from the Jillaroos
A number of the players named in the squad are battling injuries sustained in this year’s Interstate Challenge and they’ll have four weeks from now to prove their fitness.
NSW full-back Sam Bremner is one of them, forced from the field with an ankle injury in the first half of the challenge match, as is QLD prop Heather Ballinger, who went on to play 30 minutes of footy with a broken hand.
Studdon finds it amusing that many people are surprised how tough the players are and can’t wait to showcase this at an international level come November.
“I think they probably think we’re pretty girls and a bit soft out there, but we go as hard as the boys,” she said.
“There were heaps of girls in the Interstate Challenge with nigglies and they just harded it out for their state of origin.”
Pressure is on for home side
As the host nation, the pressure is always on for the local team to be best.
But as defending champs with increasing interest in their performance, the Jillaroos are carrying the weight of women’s rugby league on their shoulders.
The Jillaroos will be looking to emphasise Australia’s dominance in women’s rugby league at the World Cup. (ABC: Brittany Carter)
Australia has long been a leading force in the drive for change in rugby league and winning the 2017 title would help the women’s side enforce its dominance in that space.
The Jillaroos have got a strong rivalry with the Kiwis and a great record against them having beaten them four times this year.
But it’s Canada and England that Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims has an eye on.
“We have a fantastic, strong squad and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in at camp so hopefully when it comes game time that just flows on,” she said.
“England play a really grinding game so they’re always tough to face but I’ll be really interested to see how Canada perform with a number of lacrosse, union and American football players.”
Both the women’s and men’s finals will be played at Lang Park in a double-header scenario.
Sims commended the NRL on this decision and the unity it creates.
“To be able to play the final and crown two world champions in the same sport on the same day, men’s and women’s, it’s almost unheard of,” she said.
“I’m so proud that rugby league is one of the first sports to do this.”