Brisbane Broncos will again supply their NRLW Championship wahine to Aotearoa's Kiwi Ferns, even though there's a whole new crop of Broncos #KiwiNRLWahine that took the Broncos to back to back success. Lavinia Gould, Raecene McGregor and Amber Paris-Hall all played major roles in the Broncos women's title run this year and in a weird twist, Teuila Fotu-Moala is the only player from the group that won last year's NRLW then left for St George Illawara Dragons, who is now named in this Kiwi Ferns squad.
Even funkier, Fotu-Moala barely featured in this year's NRLW after copping a suspension after her first game of the campaign. Still one of the best forwards in the world, Fotu-Moala is an automatic Kiwi Ferns selection at this stage and there's no dramas in her being selected - especially considering how eager she will be to play some damn footy. Despite being one of the better middle forwards in NRLW, in the absence of Fotu-Moala at the Dragons, Maitua Feterika is a notable absentee in this squad.
That may be due to injury, or Feterika may be opting to make Samoa her priority although Feterika didn't play in the Kiwi Ferns vs Fetu Samoa game mid-season ... for either team. Other notable absentees from the team that played Samoa mid-season are Hilda Mariu, Kathleen Wharton and Raquel Anderson-Pitman. Along with Feterika, Ngatokotoru Arakua and Kimiora Nati are both absent having made previous Kiwi Ferns squads and were part of the group that left Broncos for Dragons this season.
Coming into the squad for the first time are outside back Jules Newman and forward Billy-Jean Ale (who played for Fetu Samoa), while Lavinia Gould and Atawhai Tupaea return to the squad. Tupaea has been around the Kiwi Ferns set up since 2014 and racked up five Tests, while Gould's story is kinda bonkers as she was an Aotearoa Sevens rugby rep before moving to Brisbane where she has been playing Women's Super Rugby for Queensland Reds and NRLW for Brisbane Broncos. I'm not sure if that's going to continue moving forward or if anyone else does that double, but it's an exceptional effort and Gould has low key won back to back NRLW Championships.
Gould plays dummy half for Broncos, while Krystal Rota and Nita Maynard have both been selected in the squad as dummy halves as well. Rota and Maynard are likely to share the duties, while Gould has the ability to play as a middle forward thanks to her effort and work rate. I can't imagine that Gould and Georgia Hale will both be in the top-17 though, if Hale is again used as a middle forward to allow Charntay Poko and Raecene McGregor to operate as the halves combo. Both Hale and Gould rip in defensively, so it's possible but from that group of Rota, Maynard, Gould, Hale, Poko and McGregor someone will miss out.
I mentioned in the Aotearoa Warriors wahine wrap that Onjeurlina Leiataua was one of the Warriors best forwards throughout their NRLW campaign, if not the best Warriors player overall. That came despite Leiataua being initially named outside of the top-17 for all three games, coming in late and with the same coaching staff (Justin Morgan and Luisa Avaiki are Kiwi Ferns and Warriors coaches) Leiataua has again been named in the Kiwi Ferns. I have no idea what Morgan and Avaiki were up to during NRLW and Leiataua was a blatant stand-out for the Warriors; who knows how involved Leiataua will be for Kiwi Ferns.
Here's my Kiwi Ferns top-17 from the squad named...
Fullback: Apii Nicholls.
Wings: Madison Bartlett, Kiana Takairangi.
Centres: Honey Hireme-Smiler, Atawhai Tupaea.
Halves: Charntay Poko, Raecene McGregor.
Middles: Annetta Nu'uausala, Amber Paris-Hall, Georgia Hale.
Hooker: Krystal Rota.
Edges: Teuila Fotu-Moala, Onjeurlina Leiataua.
Bench: Nita Maynard, Aieshaleigh Smalley, Billy-Jean Ale, Crystal Tamarua.
Surplus: Lavinia Gould, Jules Newman.
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Peace and love 27.