Jillaroos centre Isabelle Kelly takes on the New Zealand defence at Mt Smart Stadium. Picture: AAP
Jillaroos centre Isabelle Kelly takes on the New Zealand defence at Mt Smart Stadium. Picture: AAP

Kelly stars as Jillaroos down Kiwi Ferns in thriller

ISABELLE Kelly has fired the Australian Jillaroos to a thrilling 26-24 win over New Zealand in their women's rugby league Test.

The superstar centre produced two pieces of brilliance, including the 75th-minute match-winner to get the world champions home against an injury-hit and gallant Kiwi Ferns at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium.

Despite losing halfback Kimiora Nati and co-captain Laura Mariu either side of half-time, the New Zealanders refused to yield, pushing the Australians all the way in a seesawing second half.

The Jillaroos burst out of the blocks to be up 12-0 after 12 minutes, with Ali Brigginshaw setting up Julia Robinson before doing it all herself.

The Kiwi Ferns were often their own worst enemies but managed to get on the board before the break when Raecene McGregor lofted the ball out to Langi Veainu.

Nati was helped off just before half-time with what appeared to be a serious knee problem, but five-eighth McGregor stepped up to keep her side in the game.

The Australians also lost back-rower Kezie Apps to a knee problem. But just when the Kiwi Ferns looked down and out, they crossed through Aieshaleigh Smalley and Veainu in the space of three minutes to take a 14-12 lead.

The Jillaroos hit straight back through Tazmin Gray, but when a rampaging Maitua Feterija managed to get it down in the corner the scores were locked at 18-18 to set up a grandstand finish.

Kelly then broke the game open when she ran through Nita Maynard to race 70 to score but,  importantly, Chelsea Baker missed the conversion.

After Brigginshaw dropped the ball from the kick-off, it put the Jillaroos under pressure and the Ferns' Amber Kani produced some late footwork at the line to go in between the posts to get her side in front 24-22.

But as the New Zealanders looked like they might steal it, the Jillaroos spread it right and Kelly crossed with five minutes remaining to hoist the trans-Tasman Trophy.