Gruelling schedule to test Jillaroos depth

SWANSONG: Jillaroos prop Steph Hancock will be lapping up every minute she spends in the Australian jumper in her final tournament. Picture: AAP
SWANSONG: Jillaroos prop Steph Hancock will be lapping up every minute she spends in the Australian jumper in her final tournament. Picture: AAP

AUSTRALIAN Test veteran Steph Hancock believes the Jillaroos will need every bit of their extensive depth to navigate a tough World Cup schedule that will see them play three games in the space of six days.

The defending Cup champions – who will be based in Wollongong for the pool matches – will kick-off their tournament against Cook Islands on Thursday as part of a triple-header at Southern Cross Group Stadium.

They’ll then take on England in their second match at the same venue on Sunday ahead of their third pool encounter against Canada on Wednesday.

They’ll also need to back up four days later for the semi-finals with the final to be held in Brisbane on December 2.

The demanding schedule was clearly a consideration for coach Brad Donald, with a number of big names left off the team list for the tournament opener.

Star fullback and Sam Bremner and captain Ruan Sims were left out of the squad while Helensburgh stars Kezie Apps and Maddie Studdon were named on an extended bench.

Hancock said it’s a luxury to be able to draw on such a rich talent pool.

“Obviously with the niggling injuries you pick up, fatigue, three-day turnarounds, it’s going to be very helpful to have the number quality players we have in the squad,” Hancock said.

“We’re not taking any game lightly by any means but it’s good we have some debutants having a run and obviously, in a World Cup, everyone’s fighting for a spot. 

“It’s great we have that much depth and potential and, with the schedule the way it is, hopefully we come through these games well and can back it up for the semis.”

Illawarra pair Bremner and Apps have both been in doubt for the tournament at different stages over the last 12 months.

Apps underwent surgery on a broken leg less than 12 months ago while Bremner picked up an ankle injury in NSW’s Interstate Challenge victory over Queensland in June.

Hancock said having both on deck is a huge boost to the Jillaroos chances of retaining the crown they won in 2013. 

TOUGH STUFF: Illawarra pair Sam Bremner and Kezie Apps. Picture: Robert Peet

TOUGH STUFF: Illawarra pair Sam Bremner and Kezie Apps. Picture: Robert Peet

“To do what Kezie’s done in that short space of time, it’s only been 11 months [post-surgery], she’s got the biggest heart,” Hancock said.

“Hopefully she’s got her confidence back and she has the tournament of her career so far and little Sammy Bremner, I call her the wild thing, she’s next level.

“For her to be back as well is great. Those two have exactly the type of mental toughness you want in a footballer and I can’t wait to see what they produce this tournament.”

On the personal front, Hancock will be soaking up every minute in what will be her swansong tournament.

“Being the last one for me I probably want it all to go by as slow as possible,” Hancock said.

“We went to New Zealand for my first trip [for Australia], it was self-funded, we stayed in these rooms you probably wouldn’t let your dog live in. 

“Fast-track to now with everything the way it is… I wish I was 20 again but I wouldn’t change a thing.

“We’re all still here for the right reasons, it’s not because we’re getting paid a million bucks to play footy, it’s because we love this game.”