Fern-tastic! New Zealand upset wasteful Jillaroos to hand Australia first defeat since 2016 after epic boilover


The Jillaroos’ winning record is no more following an heroic defensive showing from the Kiwi Ferns, with a late Leanne Tufuga try and a Raecene McGregor kicking masterclass enough to deliver a 12-6 win.

World champions Australia hadn’t lost since May 2016, but were miles off it today and deserved everything that they got. 

They finished with 16 errors and a completion rate of 52% and, no matter how good your players are, it is impossible to win with so little respect for the football. 

Australia had all the territory and most of the ball, but were stopped in their tracks by the solid Kiwis defence and, when they weren’t, stopped themselves with poor handling.

Brad Donald was fuming at half time and will fume further given the myriad chances his team had to win. 

Ferns coach Ricky Henry, however, could not be happier given how much went against his side with HIAs to McGregor and star centre Mele Hufanga. This was truly a collective effort built on belief and desire, as evidenced through multiple try saves.

The Kiwi Ferns allowed the kick off to bounce, gifting the Jillaroos perfect field position from the opening seconds, and while they did superbly to repel three sets’ worth of pressure, it set the tone – at least in terms of where the game was going to be played.

Tarryn Aiken’s superb pass for Jaime Chapman looked like it was going to be the first of many, but thereafter, the Jillaroos lost the run of themselves completely. 

By the break, they had produced one of the strangest stats sheets ever seen: 68% of the territory and 53% of the ball, but a completion rate of 40%. It’s hard to think of another game in which a side was so dominant for so long while making so many errors.

Tufuga in the corner! ????#PacificChampionships pic.twitter.com/5ruf7YTMQx

— NRLW (@NRLWomens) October 28, 2023

The Ferns’ defence had done well to keep Australia to just the one try – assisted, admittedly, by the Jillaroos’ handling – and were more than value for their equalising try, courtesy of Hufanga.

Passes went behind, offloads were squandered, balls lost in contact. Realistically, this game could have been 30-0 at half time had Australia attacked even semi-well, but instead, it was tied.

Donald must have fumed at half time: these are the elite of the elite, but looked like they’d just met on the morning of the match rather than gone unbeaten for 17 games.

They were even luckier not to trail as Api Nicholls had a try pulled back for obstruction, too, before a crucial HIA for McGregor swung the game.

Pure power from Hufanga! ????#PacificChampionships pic.twitter.com/WeyiX4vMqC

— NRLW (@NRLWomens) October 28, 2023

Tyla Nathan-Wong, deputising as principal play kicker, sent one out on the full and, finally, the Jillaroos began to play. 

They suddenly completed four sets in a row, forcing challenging kicks, but the NZ line simply would not break. It was heroic stuff, but the bad breaks kept coming.

No sooner had McGregor returned than Hufanga was taken off with a HIA following a collision with Kezie Apps, who was put on report for the incident.

Yet this Kiwis side is made of the sternest stuff. With their talismanic halfback back, on they put together their most sustained period of pressure and came out with points thanks to Leanne Tufuga, who touched down at the corner after a superb Nicholls pass. McGregor goaled nervously off the touchline.

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