Aotearoa Warriors have a habit of making big signings, the type of signings that bring with them oodles of hope and optimism, as well as pressure and expectation. After what eventually finished as a rather under-whelming NRLW campaign last year, the Warriors have snapped up the best backline weapon in the world with Honey Hireme moving from St George Illawara Dragons to Mt Smart.
In announcing Hireme in their 2019 squad, the Warriors have laid down a fresh group for the second season in the NRLW competition with plenty of turnover from last year. 11 players have dropped out of last year's squad as Georgia Hale, Amber Kani, Onjeurlina Leiataua, Hilda Mariu, Va'anesa Molia-Fraser, Apii Nichols, Tanika-Jazz Noble-Bell, Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Krystal Rota, Aieshaleigh Smalley and Crystal Tamarua returning from last year's squad.
As Auckland currently has the best women's club competition in Aotearoa, many of the Warriors squad are based in Auckland. Although, many have come from elsewhere to play at a higher level and that means we need to dig a little deeper to suss out the pathway to get to this point. Take Charntay Poko for example, who quickly caught my eye in the recent Test between Aotearoa and Samoa; Poko has been playing rugby union and league for Canterbury before moving up to Auckland this year to play for Richmond Roses.
Poko has played first-five in union and made her Kiwi Ferns debut in the halves, with her size/skill combo helping Poko stand out above the rest. That was despite Poko making her debut and another Kiwi Ferns debutant Kathleen Wharton Keremete was also impressive, playing as an edge forward on the left. Interestingly, Wharton Keremete played inside Hireme and that could be a brewing combination for the Warriors to tap into.
The Warriors have also made an interesting move in recruiting two Fijian reps in Roela Radiniyavuni and Timaima Ravisa, who won Gold for Fiji in Rugby League Nines at the Pacific Games. Both have also represented Fiji in rugby sevens and it looks like the Warriors have brought them across to Aotearoa to play for Richmond Roses, then bolstering the NRLW squad. This is notable as it shows a fresh wrinkle to NRLW recruitment for the Warriors in terms of targeting players from a Pacific Island nation and offering them a pathway.
The spread of talent across Auckland clubs isn't quite where it needs to be and the recent club final is an example of this. 13 players from the Warriors squad of 22, played in the Women's Premiership on the weekend as Richmond had Madison Bartlett, Georgia Hale, Va'anessa Molia Fraser, Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Charntay Poko, Roela Radiniyavuni, Timaima Ravisa and Crystal Tamarua.
Papakura Sisters defeated Richmond finishing as champions and the Papakura team featured Hilda Mariu, Apii Nicholls, Krystal Rota, Atawhai Tupaea and Kathleen Wharton Keremete. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about the connections between certain clubs and the Warriors and how that could be improved.
Two other players have also come from outside the Warriors Auckland bubble; Kanyon Paul and Tasia Seumanufagai. Paul is from Waikato where she has dabbled in 15/sevens rugby, while also playing league for Waicoa-Bay in the national competition. Seumanufagai is from Victoria, Australia where she recently played for the Combined Affiliate States team in the Australian National Championship and Seumanufagai won MVP honours for the CAS team.
From this squad, there are a bunch of players who we can immediately slot into a top-17. Here's a little jam at trying to organise the squad...
Fullback: Apii Nicholls.
Wings: Hilda Mariu.
Centres: Honey Hireme.
Halves: Georgia Hale.
Middles: Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Aieshaleigh Smalley.
Hooker: Krystal Rota.
Edges: Kathleen Wharton Keremete, Onjeurlina Leiataua.
Those are the players I'm confident will start or be in the top-17 and I'm eager to see Poko get an early crack in the halves alongside Hale. I'm not sure sure where the other players are going to feature so we'll need to wait until a few team lists get dropped to see how coach Luisa Avaiki is thinking. An early little wrinkle to ponder is how to balance out the team to provide an attacking threat (or two) on the other edge to Hireme, ensuring that the Warriors can be as varied as possible.
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