The Kiwis Ferns have turned a corner - which could have big ramifications for the future of the team on the international stage.
Saturday’s remarkable 12-6 win over the Jillaroos was the end of a seven-year drought but also feels like the start of something.
In terms of a landmark moment, there were echoes of the Kiwis’ famous 1983 victory at Lang Park. That result was also built on magnificent defence - “the day of the tackle” as it was referred to - but also changed the mindset about taking on the team in green and gold.
At times over the last few years, the Jillaroos have seemed invincible. They were already dominant, winning the 2013 and 2017 World Cups, but the advent of the NRLW and Women’s State of Origin in 2018 took that to a whole new level, as their players had a platform no one else could match.
They had organisation, structure, speed, skill, and enough players for two squads, typified by their crushing 54-4 win over New Zealand in last year’s World Cup final. But Saturday is a new dawn.
The Kiwi Ferns’ first transtasman success since 2016 means so much. Before Saturday, only one member of their team, co-captain Georgia Hale, knew what it was like to beat Australia, the last survivor of their 26-16 win in Newcastle seven years ago.
Now their entire squad - with so many young players - have experienced the ultimate victory.
The most exciting aspect of their performance was the last 20 minutes, when they took the game to Australia, rolling through the ruck and finding space out wide. That almost never happens against the Jillaroos and showed the benefits gained from having players back in the NRLW this past season.
But the foundation of the win was a never say die belief, even when they lost two of their most important players for separate 15-minute spells in the second half (for head injury assessments).
Australia had 47 tackle busts to 11, along with 13 offloads to one, while their average set went almost 50 per cent further. But the Ferns refused to buckle.
“I’m so proud,” said Hale. “There was a lot of desire and desperation out there. It wasn’t always pretty - but it was gritty and grinding - and that is an element of our game that we are extremely proud of. It took a team effort.”
It felt like the Ferns had dug themselves into a hole in the first half - with a string of mistakes - but they somewhat survived to be 6-6 at the interval.
“We didn’t get things right but we kept turning up,” said coach Ricky Henry. “Rugby league’s a funny game, you can have all the possession and everything else but if you are willing to work hard enough then things will turn for you. It’s something we can build on.”
The result was Australia’s first loss in 18 tests and just their second reverse since 2014.
“We have been searching for the right formula and sometimes it is about selecting players that want to work hard,” said Henry. “We want to be known as a gritty team and a team that is based on effort. We’ll go away and think about next year but with a smile on our face. It’s been a long time between drinks.”
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. He has also reported on the Warriors and NRL for more than a decade.