Kiwi Ferns get chance on big stage at Nines
Miniscule crowds, games lacking in exposure and small-scale events have always been the status quo for the New Zealand Kiwi Ferns.
The NRL Auckland Nines happens to be none of those things.
That is why the opportunity to play a three-match series against the Australian Jillaroos in between club clashes at the tournament on January 31-February 1 is such a big deal, not just to the national squad, but the women's game as a whole in New Zealand.
"It is history for us – the biggest crowd to ever watch a game of women's rugby league," coach Rusty Matua said.
"Also the fact that we are being televised for this first time, to be part of that as a team is just so exciting for all of us.
"It's great to see our game advancing and the fact that our women are more than just administrators, managers and coaches for our kids.
"Girls can play this game, and this is an opportunity we are really looking forward to, showing the crowd and television audience how well our girls can play."
Ferns fullback Sarina Fiso expects the games to have a flow-on effect, with more females becoming interested in playing league.
"Our girls are super excited, the buzz at training has been outstanding and our preparation going into the tournament has been an improvement on previous examples," Fiso said.
"We just want to build women's rugby league and get a lot more interest in the game, and hopefully this creates more fixtures for us as well.
"The Jillaroos are a really good side, well-structured and have a lot of speed. In training we have tried to focus on our defence and structural play.
"We have got a few young talented girls that I am sure will do really well in the Nines too."
The opportunities at the second edition of the Nines won't be limited to just female players either, with Auckland-based referee Rochelle Tamarua set to officiate during the tournament at Eden Park.
The NRL will also host 40 female administrators at a Women in League Leadership Forum on January 29.
"To have that female participation level to the Nines is a wonderful asset," NRL head of commercial Paul Kind said.
"Rochelle's success out of last year's workshop, where she was identified and this year will officiate in the Nines, is an indication of the outcomes you can get.
"The public will embrace [the women's Test series] and it will be broadcast on both Sky and Fox, so will have great exposure both here and into Australia and beyond."
The last time the trans-Tasman rivals met was in November last year, with the New Zealanders winning thanks to a try in the 79th minute.