With the fifth women’s world cup looming this year, it is a testament to how far the game has come to see the competition staged alongside the men’s tournament in Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.
The ladies will play their group games and semi-finals at Cronulla Sharks’ Southern Cross Group Stadium, with the final being played as a double-header for the first time at Brisbane Stadium on December 2, 2017.
Just 16 years after the first tournament was staged in Great Britain, the women’s game has come a long way, with the 2017 competition including teams from Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Canada and England all vying for the cup.
New Zealand have been the side to beat in previous years, never failing to make a final and winning the trophy in 2000, 2005, and 2008, before Australia stole their crown in the last outing in 2013 where they ran out 22-12 winners at Headingley.
England have been drawn in a pool with heavy weights Australia, and the Cook Islands. I am going to take a look at what chance we stand in the competition that has been firmly dominated by the southern hemisphere in recent years.
Although the women’s game is not as prominent in England as Australia and New Zealand, there has been huge leaps forward in the success and development over here. With Super League teams introducing ladies sides to their clubs, the future does look bright and there has never been a greater interest in the game. The national team played their most recent game in France where they eased to a 36-6 win and are focusing on 2017, which is set to be a massive year in the sport.
As the current world champions, the Australian Jillaroos (as they are known), will be hard to beat. The team boast two players that are on the books with the Cronulla Sharks and have already started their training to defend their title next year. A squad of 30 players took part in a three day camp on the Gold Coast earlier this month. The strength and depth in their team, alongside the time and effort that is put into their training, suggests it will be hard to look past them to retain their title, unless New Zealand have something to say about it. They will be aiming to emulate the success of their male counterparts in the recent Four Nations, and there is nothing to stop both sides winning consecutive world titles in 2017.
The ladies from the Cook Islands took the sixth and final place in the competition after Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all withdrew from the Pacific qualifying event that was meant to take place on October 15, due to a lack of playing numbers. Despite the nature of securing the final place, the Cook Islands will be no less competitive and determined to do as well as they can. In fact, they have nothing to lose so could be the surprise performers – they will have a point to prove. But, being drawn in a group with the cup holders and England, who finished third in the 2013 tournament, they will have to be at the very top of their game to stand a chance of making it through to the semi-final stage.
England will take on Papua New Guinea in their opening game of the tournament, being played on November 16 – for what should be a relatively straight forward game against the southern hemisphere side, to ease the Lionesses into the competition. A tough fixture follows against Australia, and the ladies will need an outstanding performance if they are to stand a chance against the Jillaroos. Despite the hard work England will put into the game, I can’t see them coming away with a result but victory in the next fixture against the Cook Islands should see the ladies through.