WORLD’S BEST: Ipswich rugby league player Ali Brigginshaw wears her World Cup jersey signed by all the victorious Australian players.
WORLD’S BEST: Ipswich rugby league player Ali Brigginshaw wears her World Cup jersey signed by all the victorious Australian players. David Nielsen

Brigginshaw is proof that league women are gaining respect

WORLD Cup-winning rugby league player Ali Brigginshaw heads to the NRL grand final this weekend knowing she's finally made it.

Not only as an international player but with newly-gained sporting respect.

Being invited to be part of the halftime formalities in Sydney on Sunday is proof Australia's leading female footballers are being treated professionally.

"It's a massive thing," Brigginshaw, 23, said.

"That's the first ever. The whole (Australian women's) team is going to the NRL final.

"It's good that it's finally happened."

However, receiving VIP invitations and financial assistance wasn't always the case.

Before the Australian Jillaroos won the World Cup in England in July, dedicated players like Brigginshaw had to pay their own way.

The latest 14-day World Cup campaign was a breakthrough for women's rugby league with flights, accommodation and food paid for. It saved players like Brigginshaw thousands of dollars in expenses.

"We don't get paid but everything is being paid for," the former Raceview and Bremer State High School student said.

"The coaching staff and everyone around it now are more professional about things.

"Now you can have the best team kind of thing. You're not missing out if you can't afford it.

"It's like a relief that we now enjoy playing rugby league without having to spend a million dollars on it.

"You actually feel like you are representing Australia now."

Brigginshaw said with the higher level support came more acknowledgement of what the 23-strong Jillaroos squad achieved.

"It (World Cup) is a big build-up but now we won, we get more recognition everywhere," she said.

Powerhouse State of Origin and international player Greg Inglis was at the airport wishing the Aussie women well.

"He said we were professional and should be up there with the men," Brigginshaw said.

The Aussies went on to beat New Zealand in the decider, after trailing in the first half.

"Winning the grand final was more tears of joy . . . relief that we'd finally done it after 13 years," Brigginshaw said.

"It was humid as. I was going 'I don't know if I can even finish the game because I was buggered."

Brigginshaw didn't score any tries but was Australia's goalkicker. She thrived on playing five-eight after previously being in the centres.

Having achieved a rare sporting milestone, the Ipswich courier is already looking ahead.

"It was awesome," she said of the World Cup experience. "Now it's sad that I have to wait another four years for the next one."

Special achievement

The Australians won their first World Cup after beating New Zealand 22-12 in the final at Headingley Stadium. It was the first time the Jillaroos had overpowered the Kiwis.

The Aussies had earlier enjoyed wins over England (14-6) and France (72-0), resting some star players in the Jillaroos' 14-6 preliminary round loss to the Kiwis.

Ipswich player Ali Brigginshaw was named vice-captain for that game, one of the highlights of the tour. "Especially against the Kiwis, that was a bit of a shock," she said.

Adding to the importance of Brigginshaw's honour was having another Ipswich-based player Natalie Dwyer named captain for that game.

"That was pretty special," Brigginshaw said.