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Emma Tonegato spoke to Jillaroos coach Brad Donald about her role at the World Cup after receiving a late call-up and offered to play any position but the Dragons fullback didn’t expect to spend 60 minutes as a middle forward against New Zealand.

Tonegato, who won the Dally M award in the 2021 NRL season played earlier this year, made 35 tackles and ran 108 metres with the ball after coming on as replacement for prop Shannon Mato midway through the first half of Australia’s 10-8 defeat of the Kiwi Ferns.

After switching from fullback to hooker during last weekend’s 92-0 defeat of France, Tonegato impressed Donald with her defence and he gambled on a bench which included Kennedy Cherrington as the only prop.

Dragons second-rower Shaylee Bent, Broncos utility Lauren Brown and Tonegato were the other interchange players.

With Cherrington’s involvement limited by a cut under her left eye and Kezie Apps gassed after playing the full first half, Tonegato was forced to play out the match in the middle as the Jillaroos came from behind to secure top spot in Pool B.

The winning moment

“Brad spoke to me after the last game and said that he thought I was good in the middle,” Tonegato said. “We talked about me coming off the bench and playing a bit of a lock role, using my speed up the middle.

“I loved taking on a new responsibility and taking on a new role so hopefully I did my job. The lactic hit about two minutes after I got on, but once I found my feet and got into it I felt really comfortable.

“I am just here to do my part for the team - whatever they want me to do - and tonight it was lock for 60 minutes.

"I will just fit in wherever they want me and if I am lucky enough to play the next few games, I will take the opportunity with both hands and go with it.”

The 2016 Olympic gold medallist, who scored the winning try in the rugby sevens final against New Zealand, was also a member of the Jillaroos side which won the World Cup for the first time in 2013 before switching codes.

However, Tonegato was initially overlooked for the Jillaroos squad until Upton and Knights team-mate Millie Boyle withdrew in the wake of the club’s NRLW grand final triumph.

With former Helensburgh team-mate Sam Bremner the first choice fullback for the Jillaroos, Tonegato discussed her role in the team with Donald.

“I spoke to Brad in my one-on-one when we first came in and I spoke about what I was here for and my role in the team,” she said.

The best contest Donald has been part of

“I put my hand up and said I am happy to jump in wherever you need. An opportunity came up to play hooker and then I got put in at lock.

“We have got an amazing squad of 24 players so I think to take the field in any game is a complete honour and I am just happy to put my hand up.”

The 27-year-old said the standard of the game has improved dramatically since her previous World Cup in 2013 and that was demonstrated in the gripping encounter between the trans-Tasman rivals, who had not met since 2019 due to COVID.

“I was 18 and I was in the middle of my HSC, so it is so good to be back here now. I am loving it,” Tonegato said. “I think the standard has just been incredible and it is so good to be surrounded by 23 other girls that are just smashing it.

“Everyone is so onto their role, and so professional. I really feel like the game has grown so much and I am looking forward to the semis.

“We tried to take each game as they came and not get ahead of ourselves, but we knew this one was going to be tough and we have had a bit of a hit out now against them.

"We know we can play way better than that and we just need to complete our sets and be a little bit more composed.”

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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