Jillaroos kick off Women’s Rugby League World Cup title defence with 74-0 win

Australia’s defence of the Rugby League World Cup is off to an impressive start with co-captain Sam Bremner scoring four tries in a 74-0 thumping of the Cook Islands.

The 31-year-old fullback, who was playing her first Jillaroos Test since 2018 following the birth of her two children, was at her devastating best as the Australians underlined their title credentials in York.

In front of 3,091 fans, the Jillaroos were in complete control from start to finish as they ran in 14 tries in their opening group B clash.

Centre Evania Pelite scored a hat-trick, five-eighth Tarryn Aiken and winger Julia Robinson grabbed tryscoring braces and Caitlan Johnston, Taliah Fuimaono and Shenae Ciesiolka crossed once. Bremner grabbed two in each half and was named player of the match.

The game was a mismatch from start to finish, with Australia underlining why they are hot-favourites to retain their crown. The Jillaroos are expected to make light work of France, who lost 46-0 to New Zealand in Group B’s other game, when they meet on Sunday (Monday AEDT).

After his side’s heavy defeat, Cook Islands coach Rusty Matua fired a shot at tournament organisers for handing hosts England a favourable route to the knockout stages.

The fact Australia and New Zealand – the world No 1 and No 2 ranked nations – are in the Cook Islands’ group, while England have a softer pool, means Matua’s side are at long-odds to be one of the two teams to advance to the knockout stages.

“I think Australia and New Zealand should’ve been split, that’s a no-brainer,” Matua said. “They’ve played every grand final, so I can’t imagine how they ended up in the same pool.

“I don’t see any system that allows the two top seeds to be in the same pool. It’s pretty tough being in the pool of death … England’s in the spa pool along with Brazil and Canada [and Papua New Guinea], that’s a little bit unfair.”

The game also gave a glimpse into what might be to come at this tournament, with Australia’s NRLW players displaying a gulf in class and fitness that many nations may not be able to keep up with.

The match was 80 minutes in length – rather than the 70 minutes used in NRLW games – and it was clear to see the Cook Islands, who hadn’t trained together before arriving in England, as each half neared an end.

The fact St George Illawarra fullback Emma Tonegato and Sydney Roosters centre Jess Sergis didn’t feature also indicates the strength in depth Australia possesses.

Bremner stole the show and was named player of the match, grabbing a brace either side of half-time and topping the running count with 185 metres.

“All I do is just follow the girls around, they do the hard work and I try and finish it off,” Bremner, who last played for Australia in 2016, said. “In terms of the competition [for a jersey] it’s a credit to how good women’s rugby league is in Australia.”

In the group’s other game played earlier on Wednesday in a double-header, the Kiwi Ferns thrashed France 46-0 after a difficult and unconvincing start to the game.