Nine Warriors have been included in the 19-strong Kiwi Ferns squad for the highly-anticipated Trans-Tasman Triple Header clash against the Jillaroos at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday October 13.
Following the inaugural NRL women's premiership, new Kiwi Ferns head coach Kelvin Wright has named Raquel Anderson-Pitman, Apii Nicholls, Langi Veainu, Amber Kani, Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Aieshaleigh Smalley and Laura Mariu along with newcomers Onjeurlina Leiataua and Masuisuimatamaalii Tauasa-Pauaraisa
Among the other players is halfback Kimiora Nati, who picked up a hat-trick in the NRL women's premiership grand final, driving the Brisbane Broncos to the title.
She also received recognition for her outstanding display taking home the player of the match award. Nati is joined by several of her team-mates who were stand-outs during the 2017 Women's Rugby League World Cup including 2017 NZRL women's player of the year fullback Apii Nicholls.
In addition to Nicholls and Nati, seven other players were in the Counties Manukau Stingrays who took out their ninth successive national women's tournament title this year. One of those players is Kiwi Ferns veteran, Laura Mariu who is no stranger to the Trans-Tasman rivalry having played in all five Women's World Cups to date. Her stellar form at the nationals saw her signed up for the Warriors for the NRL premiership.
Another veteran to sport the black and white again is Honey Hireme. She first played for the Kiwi Ferns 16 years ago in 2002 and, after a brilliant stint with the St George Illawarra Dragons, she will look to back up her fine form in the World Cup where she was top try-scorer.
Wright said the team is filled with "some great leadership and experience mixed with some exciting youth whose form has been too hard to ignore."
"It's always extra special when you can hand players their debut," he added.
One of those Kiwi Ferns debutants is Counties Manukau Stingrays back rower Onjeurlina Leiataua, a proven powerhouse in her breakout season with the Warriors. She is joined by Broncos utility Lavinia Gould and Cantabrian Masuisuimatamaalii Tauasa-Pauaraisa, who make up the three debutants in the squad.
Last year marked the first time Australian-based Kiwis were eligible to play in the Kiwi Ferns jumper, an opportunity halfback Raecene McGregor and Gisborne-born Nita Maynard grabbed with both hands. The two have again earned a spot in the Kiwi Ferns after fantastic performances for the St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters respectively, Maynard playing hooker for the Roosters who finished runners-up in the grand final.
"For all involved now we are looking forward to getting into camp and putting our full efforts into preparing for our clash against the Jillaroos," said Wright.
KIWI FERNS v JILLAROOS
Warriors: Raquel Anderson-Pitman, Apii Nicholls, Langi Veainu, Amber Kani, Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala, Aieshaleigh Smalley, Laura Mariu, Onjeurlina Leiataua, Masuisuimatamaalii Tauasa-Pauaraisa
Brisbane Broncos: Ngatokotoru Arakua, Karley Te Kawa, Kimiora Nati, Teuila Fotu-Moala, Maitua Feterika, Lavinia Gould, Lilieta Maumau
St George Illawarra Dragons: Honey Hireme, Raecene McGregor
Sydney Roosters: Nita Maynard