The trio were voted player’s player by team-mates in each of Australia’s three pool matches against Cook Islands, England and Canada but such is the quality of the Jillaroos squad that Donald could not find room for Young and Ward in the line-up to play the Kiwi Ferns.
“We have got seven girls who aren’t going to play tomorrow and it is a great credit to the group that those seven understand how important they were,” Donald said. “Most of them played three to four matches and put the team in a really good position tomorrow.
Star fullback Sam Bremner was ruled out due to a leg injury that has sidelined her for the entire tournament, while five-eighth Maddie Studdon and forwards Talesha Quinn, Vanessa Foliaki and Annette Brander were the others to miss out
“We have watched each of the matches, all of the Kiwi Ferns games for the past couple of years and the pool matches and basically it has come down to what we think is the best 17 to take on the Kiwi Ferns in terms of attack and defence,” Donald said.
Donald cited the versatility of Temara and Levina O’Mealey as reasons they have forced their way into the team for the final, in which the Jillaroos will be aiming to win back-to-back World Cups after beating New Zealand for the first time in the 2013 final.
“Zahara played in the May Test and was fantastic, and she has been fantastic throughout the tournament,” he said. “We played her in a couple of positions she hadn’t played before and she took to it like a duck to water. She is a natural rugby league player.
“Levina is going to fill the role of the utility on the bench. If anyone has seen her play throughout the tournament, she played six, seven and nine, her defence is fantastic and she gives us cover in a number of positions.”
Captain Renae Kunst, who will be playing her last match for the Jillaroos along with fellow veteran Stephanie Hancock, said the players in the final would be out to honour those members of the squad not playing by beating the Kiwi Ferns.
“I don’t think it matters what team we put on the park, all 24 players have had a wonderful campaign so Brad has had a very difficult decision and I really hope we can do those girls proud as well,” Kunst said.
“We had a group session two days ago, it was a bit of an honesty session where we sat down and talked about what we were going to do for the team and that was not only on the field but leading into this.
“There was a lot of raw emotion attached to that session and that was good for each and every one us to see what it means to the team and the coaching staff as well. It has probably bought us closer together.”
Brad Walter | @BradWalterSport
Chief Correspondent, RLWC2017