Ahead of the Women's Rugby League World Cup kicking off next month, Kiwi Ferns coach Tony Benson has declared it's never been tougher to earn a spot in the national squad.
Thanks in part to a change in New Zealand Rugby League rules, which now allows overseas-based players to be eligible for selection, the Kiwi Ferns had a bigger crop of players to choose from, causing plenty of headaches at the selection table.
"Definitely, no question there at all [it's never been more competitive]," Benson told NRL.com after naming his 24-strong squad last week.
"Even just the standard of the trials, which I believe was higher than the Anzac Test, we had two trial teams playing better than the team that we fielded in the last Anzac Test, which is very exciting.
"We had a lot of very good players to pick from and as a result some fantastic players have missed out."
The final Kiwi Ferns squad includes six players set to make their international debuts, and a new captain in Laura Mariu due to the unavailability of usual skipper Sarina Fiso.
For Mariu, who will be appearing at her fifth World Cup in a career which has spanned two decades, this year's selection process has been unprecedented.
"In all the time that I have been playing we never actually had a trial to make the World Cup, the team was just selected from the national competition and away we went," Mariu told NRL.com.
"This year was new for all of us and it was tough. Even for myself after being involved in all these campaigns, I couldn't take my spot for granted.
"With all the training and competition we have had in the lead up to the World Cup, players haven't had enough time to rest or think it's their right to be in this squad, it's been full on."
The Kiwi Ferns will play the New Zealand Maori women's team in their only pre-tournament match on November 4, serving as the curtain raiser to the men's World Cup clash between Samoa and Tonga at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.