The Roar
The Roar


ANALYSIS: Upton the girl as Tamika's dream debut delivers Jillaroos past Kiwi Ferns

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14th October, 2023

Tamika Upton can do it all. She can now add Test matchwinner to her Dally M Medal and her two Karyn Murphy Medals after a dream debut in which she scored twice to lead the Jillaroos to a 16-10 win over the Kiwi Ferns in Townsville.

The Newcastle fullback was the clear best on ground, dominating the first half and delivering Australia a lead that they would never relinquish.

The Ferns fought hard, with Raecene McGregor pulling all the strings, but ultimately fell short against the world’s best women’s team.

This win makes it 15 in a row for the Jillaroos, but unlike last year’s World Cup Final, this was a competitive affair until the finish with New Zealand pushing Australia all the way.

Indeed, despite an early try for Upton, it was the Kiwis who were the better team for the first 20 minutes.

It’s not surprising that the Jillaroos bat really deep, but it was perhaps against expectations that they were in need of reinforcements so early. 

It had all been going so well, with Brigginshaw putting the fullback over smartly, but the run of the game was in favour of the visitors, who struck back through Annessa Biddle and then took over, playing in the Australian half more often than not.


Jillaroos coach Brad Donald rang the changes early, with Emma Tonegato on before the 20th minute and Caitlan Johnston not long after. Both worked. 

The Sharks star immediately offered more spark while playing as an auxiliary half, and it was Johnston who scored next following a period of prolonged pressure.

Despite another Upton try putting gloss on the score before the break, this was far from done.

The Kiwi Ferns’ defence was exceptional and kept Australia out for long enough to get another try back, and it was only late in the game that the result was secured.

Donald might point to his side’s lack of cohesion – both haven’t played since they met in the World Cup Final 11 months ago – and would certainly suggest that his side can improve.

Don’t ever doubt Tamika Upton

It seems strange to think that a player as dominant as Tamika Upton had never played Test footy before. Suffice to say she has now, and in style.


Her first touch caused chaos, with the Ferns dropping off immediately, only for Jess Sergis to drop when she might have scored. 

No worries – Upton just did it herself, backing up Brigginshaw for a try. She put Sergis through another hole, only for the final pass to fall again, before inducing the defence to stay at home again in fear of her pass, allowing for a second try.

At times, it was like all the best that the Jillaroos did was going through Upton. Midway through the second half, she appeared on the inside – the old Melbourne Storm play – and found Tonegato, who was stopped by Apii Nicholls’ superb tackle.

It’s difficult to stand out in a side so stacked, but Upton managed it again. She was consistently the most threatening, and in a tight game, her tries were the difference. The Jillaroos didn’t need any help being brilliant, but they just got even better.

The Kiwi Ferns can beat this team

The thing about the Jillaroos is that you have to be absolutely perfect to beat them.

New Zealand, more than anyone else, can certainly compete, and compete for long periods of time, but today they weren’t perfect.


They’ll look at the defending for Upton’s first try, where they were asleep at the markers and for her second, they were tentative with the fullback. 

That’s the negatives. Beyond that, they were excellent. Raecene McGregor kicked Australia to pieces and was, beyond Upton, the game’s standout player. Her control and organisation was right back to where it had been last year, which was good enough to be named Golden Boot. 

Mele Hufanga, who was a breakout start in the World Cup, backed that up in the NRLW and then again here, underlining her position as the most destructive ball runner in the women’s game.

Coach Ricky Henry seemed to get his selection a little wrong to start with, with Tyla Nathan-Wong on the bench and Nicholls at 1, but was swift to rectify that, shifting pieces around within the game amid two HIAs for his fullback and his hooker, Brooke Anderson.

He’ll get another look next week against Tonga in Auckland, followed by a second crack at the Jillaroos in Melbourne a week later. Don’t count the Ferns out.