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World Cup preparations ramp up for reigning champions

Australian Jillaroos coach Brad Donald remains hopeful the women's national side will have more than one game's preparation in 2020 leading into next year's World Cup.

An extended Jillaroos squad assembled to the Gold Coast on Friday for their first camp of the year but are in the dark about how their international calendar could look for the upcoming season.

The NRL have confirmed the Jillaroos will play New Zealand in a double-header Test match in October but it could act as their only fixture before they travel to England to defend their World Cup crown.

"We thought we may have been able to get up to the Northern Hemisphere [for games before the World Cup] but that doesn't look like the case," Donald told NRL.com.

"Our plan is to play New Zealand and hopefully fit in another couple of games.

"The Prime Minister's XIII game might be a bit more focused around having more Jillaroos players who aren't in the NRLW grand final just to give them another game.

"The best preparation in many respects is going to be in that semi or professional environment with NRLW clubs and their State of Origin teams from now until the World Cup."

Match Highlights: Jillaroos v Kiwi Ferns

Australia drew rivals New Zealand in Group B of the 2021 tournament along with France and the Cook Islands in a draw ceremony at Buckingham Palace in January.

"It was surprising because it's the two highest ranks teams in the world and the English have struggled a little bit of late," Donald said of Australia's group stage date planned with the Kiwi Ferns. 

"But we see it as a positive … having a strong pool is better than having an easy run into the semis and final.

"You've got to beat everybody and potentially you have to beat a team twice to win a World Cup."

Donald has named an extended squad that includes six potential World Cup debutants. 

Among the rookies include Broncos pair Tamika Upton and Tarryn Aiken, Roosters representatives Jasmin Allende and Caitlan Johnston Dragons forward Shaylee Bent and PM's XIII forward Kaitlyn Phillips. 

Experienced servants Karina Brown and Chelsea Baker have also been included as the average age of the Jillaroos squad continues to drop each season with a strong group of youth coming through the system.

"We'll put them all through a whole range of different tasks over the weekend," Donald said.

"They're a bit in the unknown about what we have planned but it's all about creating that uncomfortable environment and getting them used to different scenarios mentally.

"There's some girls who are on the fringe who could potentially go to the World Cup and it's important to have a mix of experience to make sure the girls are on the right path."

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