Among the representative round fixtures this weekend is a buffet of women’s rugby league headlined by Aotearoa vs Fetu Samoa. The Aussies have their little State of Origin thing and with that game now excluding those who wish to represent another nation besides Australia, the requirement for more women's fixtures in Aotearoa increases dramatically.
Aotearoa's Kiwi Ferns squad features a core group from last year, although there is also a group of notable absentees, all of whom played NRLW last year. Honey Hireme captains the team and is joined from the group that narrowly lost to Australia last year by Georgia Hale, Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Aeishaleigh Smalley, Amber Kani, Apii Nicholls, Teuila Fotu-Moala, Raecene McGregor and Nita Maynard, while Raquel Anderson-Pitman made that squad but didn't play.
The new faces are Mt Albert's Jules Newman, Richmond Rovers' Madison Bartlett and Charntay Poko as well as Kiana Takairangi who plays with Cronulla Sharks in Australia. Crystal Tamarua, Krystal Rota and Amber Paris Hall have all been named in previous Kiwi Ferns squads.
Crucial to Aotearoa's performances is the consistency in their spine, accompanied by grizzy international forwards. Nicholls is a certain starter at fullback, while McGregor and Hale are the likely halves combination with Maynard and Rota sharing hooking duties - otherwise Maynard played 80 minutes last year vs Australia. Smalley and Nuuausala will play through the middle and Fotu-Moala on one edge.
The holes from the Test vs Australia are on the wings with Karley Te Kawa and Langi Veainu both missing, while Maitua Feterika's absence leaves a hole at centre with Hireme locked in at the other centre spot. Forwards will have to step up as well with Ngatokotoru Arakua (prop), Onjerulina Leiataua (edge) and Laura Mariu (lock) not named, while Masuisuimatamaalii Pauarasia has been named for Samoa after coming off the bench for Aotearoa last year. Another notable name for Samoa is Louisa Gago, who has previously played for Kiwi Ferns.
Each of the players who played last year's Kiwi Ferns Test vs Australia but weren't named to face Samoa had NRLW contracts last year. That puts them in the upper bracket of talent and one would assume that their non-selection is because of injury or unavailability, not because they have been dropped. Te Kawa, Feterika, Nati and Arakua were all in the NRLW championship Broncos team, while Leaiataua and Mariu were with the Warriors.
Speaking of NRLW and Brisbane Broncos, they are the only team to announce #KiwiNRL wahine signings so far. Broncos will again have the services of OG Kiwi Fern Rona Peters who has been named in the Queensland team for this weekend, while Amber Paris Hall has joined Broncos from Richmond Roses. That makes Hall the first #KiwiNRL wahine signing and while she wasn't in the Kiwi Ferns or any NRLW squad last year, Hall has previously represented Aotearoa dating back to 2013.
The great thing about this Kiwi Ferns squad is that 14 of the 19 players currently play club footy in Auckland. Six players come from Richmond Roses, four from Papakura, two from Manurewa and one each from Mt Albert and Otahuhu. Even better though, is that players like Teuila Fotu-Moala have opportunities in Australia to play at a higher level in the New South Wales Women's Premiership where she has been playing alongside Nita Maynard for North Sydney Bears. Kiana Takairangi plays for Cronulla Sharks, while Raecene McGregor plays for Cabramatta Two Blues.
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