SHE started the afternoon with tears, but by the time Grace Hamilton walked off the field it was with a winning smile plastered across her face.
Panuara native Hamilton marked the start of her tenure as Wallaroos skipper on Saturday with a player of the match performance, helping Australia to a commanding 34-5 win over Japan in Newcastle.
She led by example in front of 3,912 fans, carrying the ball for 171 meters in her debut as captain, the talented number 8 punching holes in the Japanese defensive line on a number of occasions.
It was work which earned her praise from Wallaroos coach Dwayne Nestor.
"The one thing we know with Grace is when she puts this jersey on, she will give 100 per cent for 80 minutes," he said.
"In the first 20 minutes, we needed to control the emotions and get go-forward and she was definitely the girl who gave it to us."
With her family watching on, it was a special occasion for the 27-year-old who now boasts 12 Test caps. She shed tears during the national anthem.
"It was an emotional day but I am so excited and proud of every girl that stood on that field," she said.
"I think we tried to hard [in those opening stages], but I don't think you can try too hard when you're representing Australia. It means so much to every single girl and I know it means so much to me and all of our families."
The international was the Wallaroos' first since going down 45-17 to New Zealand last August and Hamilton was keen to see her new-look side fire.
It may have taken them a little while to warm to the contest, but once they did the world number seven ranked Wallaroos shone.
Debutants Averyl Mitchell and Ariana Hira-Herangi both scored tries to open a 12-0 lead for the Wallaroos in a first half dominated by big hits.
Nestor said in the lead-up that his side would have to earn the right to go wide.
That was certainly the approach early. And they were rewarded with a try after 10 minutes.
Doyle broke the line two passes wide and held up a beautiful ball for hooker Mitchell who had enough pace to crash over for a 5-0 lead.
The defence was brutal in the opening 15 minutes.
The visitors had prop Makoto Ebuchi taken off for a head injury assessment after a heavy knock.
Five minutes later, Wallaroos fullback Mahalia Murphy produced a crunching front-on tackle on Ninano Nagura 15 metres from the Australian try-line. Anything less and it was a certain five-pointer.
The Wallaroos' pack started to get on top late in the half.
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Boyle, Hamilton and lock Michael Leonard made inroads up the middle. It was a similar story at the set piece where the Australian's size advantage put the Japanese under constant pressure.
The Wallaroos second try, just before half-time, came from a scrum penalty. Halfback Cobie-Jane Morgan took a quick tap and shifted the ball to Ariana Hira-Herangi to power over from 10m.
Sammy Treherne added the extras for 12-0 at the break.
"That first half was hard and we had to absorb a lot of pressure," Hamilton said.
"We laid the platform, particularly with our set piece. What I said to our forwards especially is 'We love set piece, so if we can go out there and be confident, the rest just comes.
"We absorbed that pressure, but we also dominated our attacks. We just had a few lose carries, but in that second half we cam out firing."
You sensed that Australia were about to hit top gear. And they started the second half with a bang.
Treherne made a bust down the right wing. Two phases later Murphy ran a great angle to dive over under the posts.
Winger Mhicca Carter crossed untouched five minutes later. When reserve prop Evra Karpani swivelled over in the 58th minute, the flood gates threatened to open.
But Japan continued to battle hard and were rewarded in the 72nd minute when hooker Maiko Fujimoto burrowed over from the base of a ruck.
Hamilton will lead Australian into battle against Japan again next Friday at North Sydney Oval, before reigniting their rivalry with the Black Ferns in the Bledisloe Cup series at in Perth (August 10) and Auckland (August 17).