For the Wallaroos, the rubber really hits the road on Saturday.
It all starts from the very first match, against New Zealand at the renowned hoodoo venue for Australian rugby, Eden Park.
The Wallaroos play the Kiwis a lot. They have already played them three times this year and came second each time. But in the third game in Adelaide, the Aussies gave it a good crack.
After seeing the Kiwis demolish Japan last week 95-12 it is an understatement to say the Wallaroos are in for a tough opening. But the opening World Cup game played against the hosts will be an occasion for the players to savour (also, somewhere amongst the triple header, Rita Ora is pumping out a few tunes).
We are all aware of the challenges Australia face, especially around recognition and remuneration. So let us not focus on the fact they are the only team in their pool who was not full time professional in preparing for the World Cup.
Also, let’s not focus on the fact that of the 12 teams in the World Cup only Australia and South Africa did not play a Test match in September.
We could also mention that since the last World Cup the average number of Tests played by the 12 countries competing is 24, while the Wallaroos have played 13 (the only team at the World Cup to have played fewer is Fiji, with 12).
But let’s look at the positives. Where are the Wallaroos at and what can be expected?
In simple terms, Australia are gunning for a quarter-finals berth.
Currently the Wallaroos have a ranking of seventh, which is higher than the ninth-placed Wallabies. This year, they have already played seven Tests, which is the most since the 2017 World Cup. By the end of this tournament, they will have played more Tests in a year than ever before.
In their pool are the Kiwis, Scotland and Wales, the latter two against whom the Aussies have a 100 per cent win rate, having played Scotland twice and Wales four times.
But the adage ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ is apt.
In World Rugby’s pecking order, Scotland are tenth with Wales ninth. Based on recent results, they also appear to be at around the same level as the Wallaroos.
In the Six Nations, Scotland did not win a match and Wales won two. In the last few weeks, Scotland lost to the USA 21-17 and Canada defeated Wales 31-3.
In the Pacific Four Series, Australia went down to Canada 22-10 and the USA 16-14.
So it looks like these games are going to be close affairs. To put it into perspective, the tournament favourites, the full-time professional English Red Roses, just defeated Wales 73-7.
It would be a surprise to see many changes to the 23 that last played New Zealand. The most debate will be around the backrow and back three.
Captain Shannon Parry is a lock at 7. Then you have Emily Chancellor, Grace Hamilton, Piper Duck and Grace Kemp to make up the other two backrow positions and a bench spot. All deserve a spot but it will likely come down to which Grace is selected at No.8 – stalwart versus the young gun.
Three locks are in the mix, Michaela Leonard, Kaitlan Leaney and Atasi Lafai. Based on recent selections, Sera Naiqama is fourth in the pecking order.
The props contingent is probably made up of the four who played in Adelaide with some combination of Bridie O’Gorman, Liz Patu, Eva Karpani and Emily Robinson.
The starting hooker should be Adiana Talakai, with Ashley Marsters coming off the bench.
The halfbacks will be Iliseva Batibasaga and Layne Morgan, with Batibasaga’s experience probably getting the starting nod. Arabella Mackenzie should be 10 and it is expected that Sharni Williams will slot in at 12 with Georgia Friedrichs at 13. Trilleen Pomare can cover 10, centres and 15 so expect her on the bench.
For the back three, Mahlia Murphy, Ivania Wong, Lori Cramer, Pauline Pilae-Rasambale and Bienne Terita are gunning for three starting places and a bench spot.
With the Kiwis having wingers Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui, Australia needs pace and strength which would lean to Murphy and Terita. However, Wong is a terrier in defence who puts her body on the line and did a great job opposite Tui. We will have to wait and see what the coach thinks.
So Saturday is kick off and pedal to the metal time.
Good luck Wallaroos!