Despite Australia having far more resource and a deeper pool of players, Aotearoa's Kiwi Ferns will be eager to shake things up in Friday night's Test across the ditch. Aotearoa snared a World Cup 9s win over the Aussies, which was lovely and all, yet straight up international footy is where the Kiwi Ferns need to make their mark and that means upsetting Australia.
Last year's fixture saw Aotearoa go down 24-26 and in an exciting sign of Aotearoa's simmering depth, nine of the 17 players from that game are named in this year's team. That means that there has been a wave of fresh Kiwi Ferns come through to command selection and adding to the funky turnover vibe, four of those nine players will are named in different roles from the last Test vs Australia.
Apii Nicholls (fullback), Honey Hireme-Smiler (centre) and Raecene McGregor (halves) stay in their spots from last year's game. I could make it five of nine players changing position if I included McGregor who played #6 last year and is named at halfback for this game; she's still in the halves though. Maitua Feterika started at centre last year, before moving to the middle with St George Illawara Dragons in this year's NRLW and Feterika has been named to come off the bench along with Teuila Fotu-Moala.
Fotu-Moala started on an edge last year and like Feterika, she was shifted to the middle with the Dragons. Annetta Nuuausala shifts from bench to starting and Georgia Hale moves from the bench to her now-favoured role in the #13 jersey. I've discussed the weird selection moves around Onjeurlina Leiataua during NRLW with the Warriors wahine, for Aotearoa though Leiataua started as an edge forward last year vs Australia and is named in the spot again this year.
The fresh vibes flow on from the mid-season fixture vs Fetu Samoa as most of the players named now, who didn't play last year got a chance against Samoa. Kiana Takairangi (wing), Jules Newman (centre), Atawhai Tupaea (wing), Charntay Poko (halves), Amber-Paris Hall (middle), Crystal Tamarua (edge) and Billy-Jean Ale (bench) come into the Kiwi Ferns to bolster the team from last year. Krystal Rota didn't play last year, but is a Kiwi Ferns veteran and is down to start with Nita Maynard coming off the bench.
Aotearoa's strength feels like it's in the forward pack and any time Fotu-Moala and Feterika are offering a second wave of oomph, I'm intrigued. Hall established herself as one of the better middle forwards in NRLW this year, named in the NRLW Team of the Week two of the three rounds in her first campaign. Other Kiwi Ferns who earned multiple Team of the Week selections during NRLW are: Hale, Rota and Feterika.
Having power and mobility is one thing and I'd suggest that Aotearoa has an advantage over Australia in that department through the middle, having the dynamic running of Rota and Maynard offers another wrinkle to Kiwi Ferns footy. If the big boppers get momentum, expect to see Rota and Maynard posing a threat when they scoot out of dummy half and then, add another wrinkle in Hale's ball-playing at lock.
Hale is good enough to be an international half, which points to solid Kiwi Ferns depth considering the absence of Kimiora Nati as well. These days, Hale operates as a middle forward where she rips in defensively and shifts the footy in attack. This is made possible via Hale's defensive skill and the presence of big bodies around her, of which there isn't a shortage in this Kiwi Ferns team.
That has me excited about how the Kiwi Ferns go about their footy against the Jillaroos as there is a reasonably enticing blueprint for success. Capable of earning quick play-the-balls, Aotearoa can trouble ruck defenders thanks to Rota and Maynard, while also shifting the footy to the edges where I can see Poko and McGregor linking up with Hireme-Smiler and/or the low key beast that Leiataua is.
Aotearoa made their intentions clear with the win over Australia to snare the 9s title. They now have an opportunity to back it up with a strong performance on Friday night and in doing so, Aotearoa would be making it known where the power sits in terms of women's rugby league. All of this Kiwi Ferns team played in NRLW and thus the difference in exposure to high level footy is minimal, there is also growing familiarity with their opposition and perhaps the most talented Kiwi Ferns team I've covered. All of which has me rather interested in what Aotearoa can dish up on enemy turf.
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Peace and love 27.