Orange product Vanessa Foliaki played a vital role in her Jillaroos’ Women’s Rugby League World Cup win, Australian coach Brad Donald said, although the former Hawks and Emus star was unluckily left out of the side which trumped New Zealand in the final.
The Jillaroos defeated the Kiwi Ferns 23-16in Saturday’s decider at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, a victory built on the foundation the side had laid in the earlier stages of the tournament, where Foliaki shone.
She made her presence felt the most with ball in hand, running for 253 metres in her appearances – making almost 10 metres a hit-up – and finished in the top 10 try-scorers, crossing the line four times including a stunning hat-trick in her side’s 88-0 thrashing of Canada.
“[Foliaki] played a role and played magnificently,” Donald, a former Orange CYMS coach, said.
“We played her in a number of positions and she did well. What [she] gave us was the chance to rest other players (too) and I think that’s probably what saved us [on Saturday].
“Our squad was in much better condition than the Kiwis, who seemed to be picking their best team in most games, our girls were a bit fresher and fitter.”
Although his side was ahead by a converted try already it wasn’t until Caitlin Moran’s last-minute field goal sailed through with 11 seconds remaining that Donald felt safe, the drop-goal assuring the Jillaroos a second consecutive World Cup win.
It capped off a magical 12 months for Donald and Foliaki’s Jillaroos too, the Australians running through all of 2017 without a loss.
There was nervous moments in the final tough.
With just over 11 minutes to go Kiwi five-eighth Raecene McGregor crossed to put her side within reach at 22-16, and soon after Jillaroos fullback Nakia Davis-Welsh left the field injured.
But the defending champions held on.
“I normally go down to the sidelines when I think we’ve got the game won and I didn’t go down until she kicked the field goal. Then I was running through the stadium trying to find the quickest way onto the field,” Donald said.
“There was no point in that game where I thought we had it won until the end. It wasn’t pretty, but we got there.”
The Jillaroos opened the scoring through Isabelle Kelly but the Kiwis lifted. In the first 30 minutes the Ferns had a 93 per cent completion rate, with plenty of time spent in the Jillaroos’ 20 too.
Winger Honey Hireme crossed twice for the Kiwis to give them a 10-6 lead before Moran stepped her way over five out from the break, converting her effort to put the Jillaroos up 12-10.
“At half-time when we went in, when I got to the dressing sheds, it felt like the girls were behind,” Donald said.
“I said to them ‘you couldn’t have put together a scratchier performance, we looked really nervous and panicky, but we’re in front’.
“That just showed all we needed to do was relax and we got the girls to lift their heads up and go out there and really enjoy that second half. They did and that’s when they skipped out to a bit more of a lead.
“We were just fortunate enough to hold them out in that last 10 minutes when they did put a fair bit of pressure on us. It was definitely tough.”