Ferns: We're better prepared this time
As the Kiwi Ferns left the field to celebrate their triumph over the Jillaroos in the three-match series at last year's Downer NRL Auckland Nines, several players couldn't shake the feeling that they had just dodged a bullet.
Despite emerging as winners for the second consecutive year, the New Zealand squad felt they had gone into the two-day tournament short on fitness and under prepared when compared to the 2015 edition.
An 11-4 loss in the opening match saw the Kiwi Ferns' deficiencies exposed and despite her side recovering to win the next two games, second-rower Teuila Fotu-Moala said the squad made a pact to ensure it wouldn't happen again in 2017.
"At last year's Nines I think we were under-prepared, but we scraped through," Fotu-Moala told NRL.com.
"When we realised we weren't where we needed to be for the tournament we planned to start preparing earlier, get all the players in earlier and get ready for not only the Nines, but the whole calendar heading into the Women's Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year.
"We have upped the ante with trainings, we started our pre-season at the end of September which was a couple of months earlier than usual, and we knew it was going to be more intense than ever."
As a result the Kiwi Ferns believe they head into this weekend's tournament at Eden Park at near peak fitness, as they attempt to claim their third NRL Auckland Nines title against the Jillaroos.
"It has been the hardest pre-season we have done since I have been in the squad, and that has been the main difference so far.
"It feels like we haven't stopped training, so even though we haven't put on the black jersey in a while, we have been around the squad the whole time.
"There has been that camp atmosphere and you know you have been around the Kiwi Ferns."
Meanwhile coach Alan Jackson expected his side to feed off the confidence of veteran back Honey Hireme, who will play for the Kiwi Ferns for the first time since 2014.
A former New Zealand women's rugby union and sevens international, 35-year-old Hireme will be making her first appearance at the tournament.
"It's nice to have her back in the game and I think a lot of the girls look up to Honey," Jackson told NRL.com.
"She has slotted right back into the team really well, it's like she was never away, so it's good to have someone with her history on the field.
"She has a mountain of experience and everyone is enjoying her company and being around her."