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Former New Zealand captain Simon Mannering has been hailed as a driving force behind the Kiwi Ferns – literally.

Mannering has been helping Kiwi Ferns coach Kelvin Wright prepare the players for Saturday's Test against the Jillaroos at Mt Smart Stadium by taking on any role needed, including driving the team van.

The Warriors great, who retired at the end of this year's NRL season, is also trainer, mentor, conditioner and will run the water for the Kiwi Ferns as they attempt to extend their unbeaten record against Australia on New Zealand soil.

"He is not just offering us all of his experience, he is driving our van, he plays cards with us … I don't think he realises how in awe we are of him," Kiwi Ferns co-captain Honey Hireme told a press conference after the team's captain's run on Friday.

Wright said he had asked Mannering to help out and he had jumped at the chance to use the experience of 301 NRL games and 45 Tests to help the Kiwi Ferns prepare for the world champion Jillaroos.

"His official title is trainer and he gets involved in all of our warm ups, works with our strength and conditioning," Wright said.

Retiring Warriors star Simon Mannering.
Retiring Warriors star Simon Mannering. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"He is a vital part off the field. He does one-on-ones with the players and interacts with them, there is a lot of experience and information he can tip them up on around preparation and the mental side of the game as well.

"To have someone of his standing in the game come into camp with the Kiwi Ferns is a big boost to the girls."

Mannering told he intended having a break before deciding whether he wanted to remain involved with the game but he was excited about his role with the Kiwi Ferns.

"I have just been trying to help out where I can. If that means getting behind the steering wheel in the van I am happy to do that," Mannering said.

"They are really good to work with, they are keen to learn and they communicate well, listen and pick up stuff really quick. A lot of them have been in an NRL environment now and there is so much potential so it is scary to think where the game can head to."

The introduction of the Holden NRL Women's Premiership this season has led to changes for both the Kiwi Ferns and Jillaroos teams, with a number of players set to make their Test debuts on Saturday.

It will also be the first time that players who have played together for an NRL club will come up against team-mates, with the Broncos having six players in the Jillaroos team and seven playing for the Kiwi Ferns.

Australian coach Brad Donald said form in the competition had meant a number of big name players, including Ruan Sims and Maddie Studdon, had lost their places from the team which won last year's World Cup final against New Zealand.

"The NRLW Premiership gave us the opportunity to see players in a high-level environment whereas in the past we would only get the one Test per year and we now know what we are looking at and what we are capable of," Donald said.

"We have got six debutants and we know what they are capable of because they have played with and against these players in the NRLW Premiership.

Match preview: Kiwi Ferns v Jillaroos, 2018

"We had to make some really tough phone calls. We haven't got some players who have captained us in the past and we haven't got the NSW captain (Studdon) so they were really tough phone calls but I think the level of the game has gone up and we have afforded those new players an opportunity."

Of the six new faces in the Jillaroos team, four – Keeley Davis, Jess Sergis, Hannah Southwell and Holli Wheeler – played alongside Hireme at St George Illawarra and she was not surprised by their rapid rise.

"I found being part of the Dragons they were very much a community-based club and bringing through all their young girls from Illawarra and to now see them selected in the Jillaroos is just awesome to see," Hireme said.

"Spending that time with them and playing in that competition, I could see how much talent they have and I am really proud to see them out there."

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