If ever a grand stage was made for Ali Brigginshaw, it’s Old Trafford’s Theatre of Dreams.
She covered every blade of grass and had a hand in nearly all Australia’s ten tries as the Jillaroos brilliantly defended their women’s Rugby League World Cup title in Manchester.
It was a privilege to watch, even if you felt New Zealand would rather never see her line-up against them again.
This was a playmaking masterclass from halfback, five years after a similar show had earned Brigginshaw more player of the match honours in the 2017 final.
She’d insisted this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but her three world titles, Australia’s unbeaten run now stretching back five years and 13 games, somehow suggests otherwise.
“That was unbelievable from all the girls, I’ve never been part of a group that can defend like that,” she said.
“I love this jersey and we never rested in defence, we let them cross once and we’re still kicking ourselves about that. All the people that said I was too old, I’m still here and the next World Cup is only three years away.”
New Zealand played a near perfect game to hold the Jillaroos to just two points in their bruising group game in York, giving hope of a final classic here.
Australia’s coach Brad Donald had stressed the importance of a fast start and his team – with 258 points banked from their four previous matches – duly responded.
And again it was Brigginshaw who was the chief architect, the Brisbane Broncos star at the heart of all the Jillaroos’ swaggering endeavour.
Her cheeky dummy offload set up Jessica Sergis for the opening try, the Roosters star barrelling through tackles to break the deadlock.
Krystal Rota’s 20 metre line break put the Kiwis into enemy field possession for the first time, igniting a neutral crowd at Old Trafford who were clearly pulling for New Zealand, but Australia’s defence repeatedly swallowed up the Kiwis Ferns’ forays forward.
Brigginshaw also set-up Australia’s second with a searing line break that in-form centre Isabelle Kelly finished in fleet-footed style.
And it was her precision kick that joint-top try scorer Julia Robinson gathered to run in, before Kelly added her second as the match started to get away from the New Zealand.
Kiwi Ferns coach Ricky Henry has barely shuffled the spine of his team in recent weeks and perhaps those exertions, in particular their last two brutal matches, started to take their roll.
In contrast Donald has continually rotated his line-up, such as is the depth of NRLW talent within the Jillaroos squad. All the conventional wisdom about trying and testing combinations goes out the window with this team, players seamlessly swapping in and out without diluting the alchemy of their winning formula.
The Kiwi Ferns Golden Boot winner Raecene McGregor and the destructive duo of Mele Hufanga and Amber Hall were all struggling to impose themselves, the Jillaroos ruthlessly muting their efforts.
It was clear their plan A wasn’t working, as Australia rolled forward relentlessly.
Brigginshaw provided another assist that set-up Emma Tonegato to blast through an increasingly stretched Kiwi line and just seconds later Sergis scored again, Lauren Brown converting, one of five goals.
Tarryn Aiken added more gloss to the scoreline, relentless wave after wave of Aussie gold attacks washing away New Zealand’s futile resilience.
Madison Bartlett’s try ensured the Kiwi Ferns would have something to show for their efforts but before the hooter put them out their misery, Kennedy Cherrington ran in a late try double and Evania Pelite scored for the now three-time champions.
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