14 Nov 2022
Five things we learned as Australia and New Zealand book final showdown
Free-scoring Jillaroos brushed aside Papua New Guinea while Kiwi Ferns broke England hearts
By Josh Graham at the LNER Community Stadium
Mele Hufanga’s bulldozing best helped New Zealand bully England and maintain their record of never missing a women’s Rugby League World Cup final with a 20-6 semi-final triumph.
Fran Goldthorp’s opener got the hosts going but Hufanga responded and together with Amber Hall wreaked serious havoc on New Zealand’s rampaging right edge to slice open the spirited but outmuscled English defence.
Raecene McGregor gave the three-time champions a two-point lead at the break but further tries from Otesa Pule and Brianna Clark put the game beyond doubt.
Ricky Henry’s side will take on Australia in the final as the only two teams to have ever won the tournament go head-to-head at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Here are the five things we learned from a misty Monday night of last four action in York.
No substitute for physicality
New Zealand’s physical superiority was abundantly clear on a brisk night against the hosts.
England warmed up the crowd with an early strike through full-back Fran Goldthorp but they would never trouble the scoreboard again.
Amber Hall and Mele Hufanga formed a riotous right edge that will haunt England’s nightmares for the three years until they get another shot at a World Cup in France.
This was not the obliteration those who played in 2017 suffered at the same stage to the same opponents, but it was by no means close.
After losing the collision and the ruck, England barely fired a shot, failing to complete and frankly looking lost in the headlights and devoid of ideas as the tackle count ran out in enemy territory.
England captured the imagination if not the trophy
You only had to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stick up as the home crowd roared on their girls at the LNER Community Stadium to have some understanding of the impact Craig Richards’ side have had in this tournament.
Some 7,139 piled into the stands on a Monday night to urge their home favourites into a first ever final, but it was not to be as the Kiwi Ferns spoiled the party.
Richards said anything less than the trophy would be a failure for his ambitious Lionesses but perhaps they can take comfort from the fantastic cut through the sport has had with every game given a great showing live and free on the BBC.
Only time will tell but the next Emily Rudge, Jodie Cunningham or Tara Jane Stanley is likely to have been watching on and will soon take their first steps in the game inspired by what they have seen this month.
Outgoing coach Craig Richards definitely agreed, saying after: “They have embraced that part of the game.
“We don’t just talk rugby league, we’ve had some of the past greats in. we’ve talked about the legacy we want to leave behind and inspiring young players.
“We’ve taken that serious and I think the girls have done a great job, so lets see what happens on the back of it.”
Richards can hold head high
The big bombshell from the post-match press conference was that Craig Richards will no longer coach the Lionesses.
He revealed the decision had been made a while ago and struggled to contain his emotions as he stewed on what might have been for his side.
But the 52-year-old can walk away from the role with his head held high and chest puffed out.
It is no mean task, taking a side that were hammered 52-4 by the Kiwi Ferns at this stage four years ago to within just a few scores.
Not only that, but the culture and injection of youth into the side has all come in his tenure. It’s a tired sporting cliché that players and coaches want to leave the shirt or the job in a better place than when they found it and Richards has certainly done that.
Donald’s depth beggars belief
Australia coach Brad Donald apologised for bleating on about his strength in depth once again after their 82-0 humbling of the Orchids.
But can you really blame him? The Jillaroos’ 24-strong squad is littered with elite athletes and rugby league superstars.
It’s staggering to think that seven of the 17 who ruthlessly put semi-final debutants PNG to the sword will not even get out of their tracksuits at Old Trafford this weekend.
It is the array of talent, Emma Tonegato the star on this occasion in York, that makes it so hard to see past the two-time defending champions.
Orchids’ progress shown by despair in defeat
Not long ago, Papua New Guinea’s women would have been satisfied to merely be sharing the pitch with the NRLW’s best stars wearing green and gold.
However, that is no longer the case for a proud rugby league nation with its women having fought against discrimination and old-fashioned social attitudes at home.
The two wins Ben Jeffries’ side managed during this tournament will do wonders for their profile but the Orchids coach knows his side are better than they showed in York.
Jeffries labelled the 82-0 scoreline unacceptable given the standards he has set and the level his team have shown.
Those remarks themselves are a good barometer of how far Papua New Guinea have travelled and the trajectory they are on for France in 2025.
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets